The average plastic fork or spoon might have a usable life of 10 minutes while you’re eating lunch–or even less, if you get a set of unwanted cutlery with your takeout and end up tossing it straight in the trash. By some estimates, Americans throw out around 40 billion plastic utensils every year.
Still, most of us don’t necessarily want to carry a set of actual silverware around in everyday life. Here’s another alternative: The Unitensil, a lightweight, foldable knife-fork-spoon combo that’s small and flexible enough to fit in a pocket when it’s not in use.
“It’s about the size of a business card,” explains Brooklyn-based designer Theo Stewart-Stand, who created the Unitensil after noticing how many plastic sporks ended up in the trash at his daughter’s elementary school.
“It’s cumbersome and unwieldy to carry a regular knife, fork, and spoon,” he says. “I wanted to create something you could fit in your wallet. It folds in half, and based on the scoring, you can still get the rigidity you need for a functional utensil.”
After experimenting with a few versions made from steel–including one that you could wear on your wrist like a snap bracelet–Stewart-Stand realized that plastic was a better option. Made from polypropylene, the same material used in yogurt containers, the utensil weighs only five grams and is smaller than anything else available.
The Unitensil is manufactured in Massachusetts. “People ask why I don’t make it in China, because it would be so much cheaper,” Stewart-Stand says. “But the retail price is already less than a cup of coffee. I wanted to support U.S. manufacturing.” (The utensil sells for $2.99).
It isn’t quite perfect; I tried one out, and the folds on the spoon make eating soup a little trickier than usual. But it’s undeniably convenient. It’s also arguably more sustainable than something like a compostable utensil, which can take more energy to produce than regular plastic, and often still ends up in the trash.
“There’s a lot of energy that goes into making the billions of utensils we use each year,” says Stewart-Stand. “This is a way to redirect that energy into a much smaller footprint. I really think there’s an opportunity for people to change their habits without it being inconvenient.”