Traditional Practices for a Sustainable Planet

Process of sewing leaves to make plates. © Monalisa Maharjan

Plastic waste has become one of the biggest problems of the today’s world. The modern lifestyles we have accustomed to, generate tones of non-degradable wastes, which are polluting our environment and degrading it at the faster pace. If we look closer, many traditional practices in different parts of the world might have solution for sustainable environment.

One of such practices that are being used by the various communities of Nepal is plates and bowls made out of leaves. The leaves from tree known as Saal (Shorea robusta) is commonly used for this purpose. Broad leaves, shiny at the front with natural impermeability to water makes it ideal to make plates and bowls out of it. Saal is tree is native to Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Not only leaves but also the timber from this tree is also very valuable as it is considered to be strong for the building materials.

These leaves are arranged and stitched with hands using thin stick made out of bamboo. Many communities have different names for these objects made out of leaves according to their frequent usability. The plates made out of leaves are called laypya in Nepal basha, bowl shaped structures made out of leaves known as duna and tapari in Nepali, bota (Nepal Basha)

Still today these plates and bowels are used for many rituals, feasts and other purposes.

Vendor selling the leaf plates in the market. © Monalisa Maharjan

In past these plates made out of the leaves were the only options for the feasts when needed to feed large number of people. In old days, before the start of festivals families gathered to sew the leaves for the feast. Especially during the big feast like weddings, it was a common practice for the family members, relatives and neighbors, to lend hands for making leaves plates or laptya several months ahead. But now a days due to the cheaper, readily available and commonly available option of plastic and paper plates these leaves are being replaced. Due to the catering services and party organizers, these community engagements is fading out.

But due to the religious and cultural significance, in the ritual practices these leaves are still used. It may be due the belief associated these leaves being pure. In the markets the green leaves rolled together could still be seen.

But there has been comeback of the leaf plates and bowls not only in the traditional rituals and feasts but also in the fast-food restaurants. The fast way to sew the leaves plates and bowls with the machines makes it easier to produce many plates in a day. It is not only easier but also the leaves plates are available all around the year in market. It’s really interesting to see the roadside food stalls using leave plates and bowls in Nepal.

These traditional practices if integrated in today’s modern lifestyle can help to combat many problem today’s society is facing.

Traditional food in leaf plates Laptya. @Monalisa Maharjan