Title:
Recyclable and compostable eating utensils and other products made from crop-based resin & method of manufacture
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A product is formed from a crop-based resin that decomposes into a compost within 120 days or less and is heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity.



Inventors:
Wagner, James (Grand Island, NE, US)
Kirsch, Warren (Huntington Beach, CA, US)
Application Number:
12/157181
Publication Date:
05/21/2009
Filing Date:
06/06/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
206/524.6
International Classes:
A47G21/00; B65D1/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20030167641Blade clamp device for jig sawsSeptember, 2003Teng
20060000314Kitchen utensil and method of manufactureJanuary, 2006Henry
20030213130Razor cartridge mounting structureNovember, 2003Motta
20090113729HacksawMay, 2009Chen
20020162226Hair clipper with pivoting clipper head assemblyNovember, 2002Abraham et al.
20040064955Handles of a puncherApril, 2004Tsai
20070220752Razor Head Having Two Shaving HedsSeptember, 2007Psimadas et al.
20040098869Battery operated chain sawMay, 2004Ashfield
20040237314Pruning hookDecember, 2004Wu
20050160878Diamond cuttting insertJuly, 2005Wort et al.
20050183269Guard for a grass trimming deviceAugust, 2005Thompson



Foreign References:
DE19541681A11996-09-19
JP2001031048A2001-02-06
WO2004104106A12004-12-02
WO2010130070A12010-11-18
Primary Examiner:
PAYER, HWEI-SIU C
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
John J. Connors (Seal Beach, CA, US)
Claims:
1. A recyclable, biodegradable, rigid product formed from a crop-based resin, said product decomposing into a compost within 120 days or less and being heat resistant, remaining in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity.

2. The product of claim 1 where its greatest thickness dimension is 19 millimeters, said product decomposing in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost.

3. The product of claim 1 where said crop-based resin is derived from wheat.

4. The product of claim 1 where said product is an eating utensil and meets ASTM D6400-04.

5. The product of claim 4 where said eating utensil is a knife, a fork, a spoon or a spork.

6. The product of claim 4 where said eating utensil is a chopstick.

7. The product of claim 6 where the chopstick is a substantially solid substantially linear structure having a food-gripping end of a substantially pentagonal cross-sectional configuration, an enlarged end opposite the food-gripping end having a substantially triangular cross-sectional configuration, and an elongated intermediate section connecting said ends including a transitional portion having a triangular cross-sectional configuration of smaller dimensions than the enlarged end, said transitional portion tapering from a three wall structure to a five wall structure to terminate at the food-gripping end.

8. The product of claim 7 where the exterior surface of the chopstick nearby the food-gripping end is rough to assist in grasping and holding food.

9. The product of claim 6 where the chopstick is a substantially linear structure having a food-gripping end of a substantially pentagonal cross-sectional configuration, an enlarged end opposite the food-gripping end having a substantially pentagonal cross-sectional configuration with dimensions greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end, and an elongated intermediate five wall section connecting said ends that tapers inward from the enlarged end to the food-gripping end and terminates at the food-gripping end, said enlarged end having a cavity therein extending lengthwise into the intermediate five wall section.

10. The product of claim 9 where the exterior surface of the chopstick nearby the food-gripping end is rough to assist in grasping and holding food.

11. The product of claim 4 where the eating utensil is fully colorized by incorporating a non-toxic dye therein during its formation.

12. The product of claim 4 where the eating utensil is marked during its formation with an advertisement.

13. The product of claim 4 where the eating utensil is dishwasher-safe and is capable of being reused and washed repeatedly.

14. A chopstick comprising a elongated substantially linear, rigid body formed from a crop-based resin, said chopstick decomposing into a compost within 120 days or less, said body being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity.

15. The product of claim 14 where said crop-based resin is derived from wheat.

16. The chopstick of claim 15 having an exterior surface nearby a food-gripping end that is rough to assist in grasping and holding food.

17. The chopstick of claim 15 where said body has a predetermined length and a handle end and an opposed food-gripping end, each end having essentially the same polygon geometric shape other than rectangular with the dimensions of the handle end being greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end.

18. The chopstick of claim 17 where said body tapers inward between said ends to provide a cross-sectional configuration that is essentially the same geometric shape as the ends but gradually decreases in its cross-sectional dimension along the length of the body.

19. The chopstick of claim 15 where said body has a predetermined length and a handle end and an opposed food-gripping end, said ends having different polygon geometric shapes other than rectangular with the dimensions of the handle end being greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end.

20. The chopstick of claim 19 where said body tapers inward between said ends and includes an intermediate transitional portion having a first section nearby the handle end that has a cross-sectional configuration that is essentially the same as the cross-sectional configuration the handle end but smaller dimensions and a second section nearby the food-gripping end that has a cross-sectional configuration that is essentially the same as the cross-sectional configuration of the food-gripping end but greater dimensions, said intermediate transitional portion decreasing in its cross-sectional dimension between the first and second sections.

21. The chopstick of claim 14 where said body has a length substantially from 6 to 9 inches and a maximum thickness dimension substantially no greater than 19 millimeters.

22. The chopstick of claim 14 where said body has a handle end including a cavity therein adapted to hold removable items therein.

23. The chopstick of claim 14 being a substantially solid structure with a food-gripping end having a substantially pentagonal cross-sectional configuration, an enlarged end opposite the food-gripping end having a substantially triangular cross-sectional configuration, and an elongated intermediate section connecting said ends including a transitional portion having a triangular cross-sectional configuration of smaller dimensions than the enlarged end, said transitional portion tapering from a three wall structure to a five wall structure terminating at the food-gripping end.

24. The chopstick of claim 14 being a substantially solid structure having a food-gripping end of a substantially pentagonal cross-sectional configuration, an enlarged end opposite the food-gripping end having a substantially pentagonal cross-sectional configuration with dimensions greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end, and an elongated intermediate five wall section connecting said ends that tapers inward from the enlarged end to the food-gripping end and terminates at the food-gripping end, said enlarged end having a cavity therein extending lengthwise into the intermediate five wall section.

25. The chopstick of claim 14 where said chopstick terminates at a food-gripping end having a polygon cross-sectional configuration of three or five sides.

26. A method of manufacturing an eating utensil comprising forming the utensil from a crop-based resin, said utensil decomposing into a compost within 120 days or less after being discarded and including an elongated rigid component that is heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity,

27. The method of claim 26 where said crop-based resin is derived from wheat.

28. The method of claim 26 where said crop-based resin is the stored under sanitary conditions prior to use.

29. The method of claim 26 where the crop-based resin is heat treated to control its moisture content so that it contains substantially from 0 to 3 weight percent water when used to form the eating utensil.

30. The method of claim 29 where the heat-treated crop-based resin is formed into the utensil and packaged automatically in sealed packaging under substantially clean room conditions without being contacted directly by humans or exposed to other sources of contamination.

31. A recyclable, biodegradable, rigid chopstick formed from a crop-based resin, said chopstick decomposing into a compost within 120 days or less and being heat resistant, remaining in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity, said crop-based resin being molded into the chopstick wherein an exterior surface of the chopstick nearby a food-gripping end is rough to assist in grasping and holding food.

32. The chopstick of claim 31 including at an end opposite the food-gripping end an ornamental body.

33. The chopstick of claim 32 where the ornamental body corresponds to a sign of the zodiac.

34. The chopstick of claim 33 where said crop-based resin is derived from wheat.

35. The chopstick of claim 33 said chopstick meets ASTM D6400-04.

36. A pair of chopsticks, each chopstick having a tip with a rough surface that is inwardly tapered from an eating end to an intermediate portion having a thickness greater than the eating end, said tip being tapered in a predetermined manner so that, when using the pair of chopsticks to grasp food, a substantial portion of the rough surface of the tip of one chopstick is nearby a substantial portion of the rough surface of the tip of the other chopstick, facilitating holding food between said substantial portions of the rough surfaces of the chopsticks.

37. The pair of chopsticks of claim 36 where the length of the tapered, rough surface tip of each chopstick is at least one inch.

38. An eating utensil formed from a crop-based resin and contained within a sealed package of a thin film comprising a crop-based resin, said thin film and said eating utensil decomposing into a compost within 120 days, and said eating utensil being heat resistant, remaining in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity.

39. An insulating sleeve for a cup comprising a tapered circular wall formed from a crop-based resin, open at opposed ends, and having an internal surface with a plurality of projections thereon that contact an external surface of a cup to form between the internal surface of the sleeve and the external surface of the cup insulating air pockets upon placing the sleeve on the cup, said sleeve being heat resistant, remaining in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity, said sleeve having a maximum thickness dimension of 19 millimeters and decomposing in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost.

40. The sleeve of claim 39 wherein the projections comprise a plurality of substantially parallel alternating ridges and grooves extending at least partially between the ends of the sleeve.

41. A coaster for a cup comprising a planar member having a having a maximum thickness dimension of 19 millimeters and including a depression therein configured to receive a lower end of a cup, said coaster being formed from a crop-based resin that is heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity and decomposing in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost.

42. A stirring device for a hot drink comprising an elongated member having a length substantially from 3 to 7 inches, a width substantially from ¼ to ¾ inch, and a maximum thickness dimension of ¼ inch, said stirring device being formed from a crop-based resin that is heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity and decomposing in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost.

43. A serving system for hot drinks in a cup comprising separate utensils including an insulating sleeve for the cup, a coaster for the cup, and a stirring device, said separate utensils each being formed from a crop-based resin, each said utensil decomposing into a compost in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost and each being heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity.

Description:

RELATED PATENT APPLICATIONS & INCORPORATION BY REFERENCE

This application is a continuation of International Patent Application No. PCT/US2006/046994, filed Dec. 11, 2006, which claims the benefit under 35 USC 119(e) of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/749,441, entitled “RECYCLABLE AND COMPOSTABLE EATING UTENSILS AND OTHER PRODUCTS MADE FROM CROP-BASED RESIN & METHOD OF MANUFACTURE,” filed Dec. 12, 2005, and U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/846,059, entitled “RECYCLABLE AND COMPOSTABLE EATING UTENSILS AND OTHER PRODUCTS MADE FROM CROP-BASED RESIN & METHOD OF MANUFACTURE,” filed Sep. 20, 2006. All of these related applications are incorporated herein by reference and made a part of this application. If any conflict arises between the disclosure of the invention in this continuation application and that in the related provisional applications, the disclosure in this continuation application shall govern. Moreover, the inventors incorporate herein by reference any and all U.S. patents, U.S. patent applications, and other documents, hard copy or electronic, cited or referred to in this application.

DEFINITIONS

The words “comprising,” “having,” “containing,” and “including,” and other forms thereof, are intended to be equivalent in meaning and be open ended in that an item or items following any one of these words is not meant to be an exhaustive listing of such item or items, or meant to be limited to only the listed item or items.

“triangular” shall mean shaped somewhat like a triangle.

“pentagonal” shall mean shaped somewhat like a pentagon.

“hexagonal” shall mean shaped somewhat like a hexagon.

“rectangular” includes square.

“substantially clean room conditions” shall mean under sanitary conditions, but not necessarily sterile conditions.

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION

It is highly desirable to make products that may be recycled and turned into compost for fertilizer in either commercial or non-commercial composting facility. Most government certified commercial composting facilities have the ability to convert biodegradable material having a thickness of about 19 millimeters or less into compost within less than about 90 days. Petroleum based plastic products ordinarily are not biodegradable and cannot be converted into compost.

Products made from resins that are biodegradable frequently cannot withstand elevated temperatures and lose their rigidity. This is an acute problem in attempting to make rigid products such as eating utensils that can withstand the elevated temperatures encountered during shipping or use under certain conditions. Eating utensils such as chopsticks typically use wood for their superior heat-resistance and rigidity. The destruction of forests, some 40 million trees per year, require new innovation. In order to avoid the destruction of the vast number of trees currently used to make wooden chopsticks, it would be highly desirable to make chopsticks from a moldable resin comprising an annually renewable agricultural resource. In making chopsticks, the wood is typically cut into an elongated segment with a rectangular cross-sectional configuration.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

This invention has one or more features as discussed subsequently herein. After reading the following section entitled “DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF SOME EMBODIMENTS OF THIS INVENTION,” one will understand how the features of this invention provide its benefits. These benefits include, but are not limited to: (a) the product's ability to withstand elevated temperatures without deforming and losing rigidity, (b) the product's ability to be virtually non-heat conducting so it acts as an insulator, (c) the product's strength and impact resistance so it won't shatter when struck or dropped, (d) the product's non-toxicity so it may be used as an eating utensil, (e) the eating utensil product's water and heat resistance so it is dishwasher safe, (f) the product's ability to be recycled, and (g) the product's ability to be converted into environmentally-safe compost.

Without limiting the scope of this invention as expressed by the claims that follow, some, but not necessarily all, of its features are:

One, this invention is a recyclable, biodegradable, rigid product formed from a crop-based resin. The crop-based resin may be derived from wheat and it may be heat treated to control its moisture content so that it contains substantially from 0 to 3 weight percent water when used to form the product of this invention. It may also be substantially entirely a carbohydrate polymer, but it may include synthetic constituents. Crop-based resins may also include resins produced by microorganism fed on vegetable matter, even grass or other cellulose material. Suitable crop-based resins that may be used to form the products of this invention are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,321,064 and 5,446,078.

Two, the recyclable, biodegradable, rigid products of this invention are sized so that an individual product's maximum thickness dimension is 19 millimeters. A host of products may thus come within the scope of this invention, including but not limited to, eating utensils such as, for example, chopsticks, knives, forks, spoons, sporks, coasters, stirring devices for hot drinks, insulating sleeves for cups, etc. One product of this invention is an eating utensil that meets ASTM D6400-04 published standard. The eating utensil may be fully colorized by incorporating a non-toxic dye therein during its formation. It may be marked during its formation with an advertisement. It may be dishwasher-safe and may be capable of being reused and washed repeatedly.

Three, the products of this invention decompose into a compost within 120 days or less. Consequently, the products of this invention may be buried in a landfill with naturally occurring microorganisms present so the microorganisms convert the products into compose within 120 days or less. The products of this invention may also be decomposed in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost.

Four, the products of this invention are heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity.

Five, the products of this invention, in particular the eating utensils, may be contained within a sealed package of a thin film comprising a crop-based resin that decomposes into a compost within 120 days or less.

These features are not listed in any rank order nor is this list intended to be exhaustive.

This invention also includes a method of manufacturing an eating utensil. The eating utensil is formed from a crop-based resin as discussed above. The eating utensil decomposes into a compost within 120 days or less after being discarded and it includes an elongated rigid component that is at least 2.5 inches in length and is heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity. The crop-based resin may be stored under sanitary conditions prior to use. The eating utensil may be packaged automatically in sealed packaging under substantially clean room conditions without being contacted directly by humans or exposed to other sources of contamination.

Some Products Of This Invention

Chopstick

One embodiment of a product of this invention is a chopstick. This chopstick is injection or otherwise molded and comprises an elongated substantially linear, rigid body having opposed ends, one end configured to function as a handle and the other end configured to function to grip food and including a rough surface which may not be visible but one can feel the roughened surface by touch. This rough surface assists in grasping and holding food when using in a conventional manner a pair of such chopsticks with roughened surfaces at their food-gripping ends. The rough surface is at the chopstick tip that tapers from an eating end to an intermediate portion having a thickness greater than the eating end. The tip is tapered in a predetermined manner so that, when using the pair of chopsticks to grasp food, a substantial portion of the rough surface of the tip of one chopstick is nearby a substantial portion of the rough surface of the tip of the other chopstick. This facilitates holding food between the substantial portions of the rough surfaces of the chopsticks making contact during use. The length of the tapered, rough surface tip of each chopstick is at least substantially one inch.

The chopstick is formed from the crop-based resin discussed above and decomposes into a compost in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost. The chopstick is also heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity. The chopstick may be packaged automatically in sealed packaging under substantially clean room conditions without being contacted directly by humans or exposed to other sources of contamination.

The food-gripping and handle ends may have the same or different cross-sectional configurations, such as for example, they may be triangular, pentagonal, hexagonal of the same or different dimensions. For example, each end may have essentially the same polygon geometric shape other than rectangular with the dimensions of the handle end being greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end. The body may taper inward between the handle and food-gripping ends to provide a cross-sectional configuration that is essentially the same geometric shape as the ends but gradually decreases in its cross-sectional dimension along the length of the body. An elongated intermediate section may connect the food-gripping and handle ends and it may include a transitional portion that tapers from a multi-walled structure to terminate at the food-gripping end.

The chopstick body may have a length substantially from 6 to 9 inches and a maximum thickness dimension substantially no greater than 19 millimeters. The handle end may include a cavity therein adapted to hold removable items therein, and the handle end may include an ornamental body, for example, a sign of the zodiac.

Serving System For Hot Drinks

One embodiment of the products of this invention is a serving system for hot drinks in a cup. This serving system comprises separate utensils including an insulating sleeve for the cup, a coaster for the cup, and a stirring device. The separate utensils each decomposes into a compost in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost, each utensil is formed substantially entirely from a crop-based resin and is heat resistant to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity.

The insulating sleeve for the cup comprises a tapered circular wall formed from a crop-based resin as discussed above. The wall is open at opposed ends and has an internal surface with a plurality of projections thereon that contact an external surface of the cup to form between the internal surface of the sleeve and the external surface of the cup insulating air pockets upon placing the sleeve on the cup. The projections may comprise a plurality of substantially parallel alternating ridges and grooves extending at least partially between the ends of the sleeve.

The coaster for the cup is formed from a crop-based resin as discussed above and comprises a planar member having a maximum thickness dimension of 19 millimeters. One surface of the planar member includes a depression therein configured to receive a lower end of a cup.

The stirring device for a hot drink is formed from a crop-based resin as discussed above and comprises an elongated member having a length substantially from 3 to 7 inches, a width substantially from ¼ to ¾ inch, and a maximum thickness dimension of ¼ inch.

The sleeve, coaster, and stirring device are each heat resistant, being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity. The sleeve, coaster, and stirring device, each decomposes in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost.

DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING

Some embodiments of this invention, illustrating all its features, will now be discussed in detail. These embodiments depict the novel and non-obvious products of this invention such as eating utensils and method of manufacturing such products as shown in the accompanying drawing, which is for illustrative purposes only. This drawing includes the following figures (Figs.), with like numerals indicating like parts:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of one embodiment of the chopstick of the present invention

FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional view taken along line 2-2 of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional view taken along line 3-3 of FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 is a side view of the chopstick shown in FIG. 1

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of another embodiment of the chopstick of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a cross-sectional view taken along line 6-6 of FIG. 5.

FIG. 7 is a cross-sectional view taken along line 7-7 of FIG. 5.

FIG. 8 is a cross-sectional view taken along line 8-8 of FIG. 9.

FIG. 9 is a side view of the chopstick shown in FIG. 5.

FIGS. 10A through 10E show a third embodiment of the chopstick of this invention where:

FIG. 10A is a top plan view of the chopstick;

FIG. 10B is a side view of the chopstick;

FIG. 10C is a bottom plan view of the chopstick;

FIG. 10D is an end view of the chopstick taken along line 10D-10D of FIG. 10A; and

FIG. 10E is an end view of the chopstick taken along line 10E-10E of FIG. 10A.

FIGS. 11A through 11E show a fourth embodiment of the chopstick of this invention where:

FIG. 11A is a top plan view of the chopstick;

FIG. 11B is a side view of the chopstick;

FIG. 11C is a bottom plan view of the chopstick;

FIG. 11D is an end view of the chopstick taken along line 11D-11D of FIG. 11A; and

FIG. 11E is an end view of the chopstick taken along line 11E-11E of FIG. 11A;

FIG. 12 shows a knife of this invention wherein (a) is a perspective view, (b) is a side edge view, and (c) is a top view.

FIG. 13 shows a fork of this invention wherein (a) is a perspective view, (b) is a side edge view, and (c) is a top view.

FIG. 14 shows a spoon of this invention wherein (a) is a perspective view, (b) is a side edge view, and (c) is a top view.

FIG. 15 shows a spork of this invention wherein (a) is a perspective view, (b) is a side edge view, and (c) is a top view.

FIGS. 16A through 16E show a fifth embodiment of the chopstick of this invention having six sides where:

FIG. 16A is a perspective view of the six-sided chopstick of this invention looking at the rear end of the chopstick.

FIG. 16B is a perspective view of the six-sided chopstick of this invention looking at the front end of the chopstick.

FIG. 16C is a top view of the six-sided chopstick of this invention.

FIG. 16D is a side view of the six-sided chopstick of this invention.

FIG. 16E is a rear view of the six-sided chopstick of this invention.

FIG. 16F is a front view of the six-sided chopstick of this invention.

FIGS. 17A and 17B depict another embodiment of the six-sided chopstick of this invention differing from the embodiment shown in FIGS. 16A through 16D in length where:

FIG. 17A is a top view of the six-sided chopstick of this invention.

FIG. 17B is a side view of six-sided chopstick of this invention.

FIG. 18 is a perspective view of a dog head chopstick of this invention looking at the left hand and rear side of the chopstick.

FIG. 19 a perspective view of a boar head chopstick of this invention looking at the front side and left hand of the chopstick.

FIG. 20 is a Table I showing the dimensions of the six-sided chopsticks embodying this invention.

FIG. 21 is a perspective view of one embodiment of the insulating sleeve for a cup of this invention.

FIG. 22 is a side elevational view of the sleeve shown in FIG. 21, with a section broken away and the sleeve around a cup.

FIG. 23 is a top plan view of one embodiment of the stirring device for a hot drink of this invention.

FIG. 23A is a side view of the stirring device shown in FIG. 23.

FIG. 24 is a perspective view of one embodiment of the coaster for a cup of this invention.

FIG. 24A is a cross-sectional view of the coaster shown in FIG. 24 supporting a cup for a hot drink.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF SOME EMBODIMENTS OF THIS INVENTION

General

A variety of products may be made in accordance with this invention where such products are formed from a crop-based resin that maintains its rigidity at elevated temperatures during shipping and use. A suitable crop-based resin is derived from wheat. The product is also decomposable into compost used as fertilizer. For example, with at least a portion of the product including a rigid wall with a thickness of 19 millimeters or less, such a product decomposes into a compost within 120 days or less. Such a product is also a poor heat conductor and is heat resistant, being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity. Products made according to this invention include, for example, components for computers such as a mouse, cups and bottles, bins, trays, and shelving, drink holders for vehicles, pallets for shipping, license plate holders, stationery items like book holders, pencil trays, business cards and other types of holders, furniture, combs, toothbrushes, and many other products. Of particular utility are eating utensils such as chopsticks depicted in FIGS. 1 through 11E and FIGS. 16A through 19, and knives, forks, spoons, and sporks depicted in FIGS. 12 through 15. In the case of chopsticks, some embodiments have an elongated body with a polygon cross-sectional configuration other than rectangular, for example, a three-sided polygon or a five sided polygon or a six sided polygon. The elongated body has a length substantially from 6 to 20 inches and a maximum thickness dimension substantially no greater than 19 millimeters. The rear end may have attached thereto an ornamental body, for example, a zodiac symbol, particularly the Chinese zodiac symbols such as, for example, a dog or boar head. Also, popular icons such as well known characters like Hello Kitty, Pokemon, Aneme, Disney, Warner Brothers, and Universal Studio characters in three-dimensional body are molded to the handle end. During manufacture of the chopstick, this ornamental body may be molded so it is integral with the stick body portion of the chopstick. Most of the products made in accordance with this invention meet ASTM D6400-04 and are made from materials that are non-toxic, such as a wheat-derived resin. Products can be made in a wide variety of colors using various colorations including non-toxic food-grade colorants. The eating utensil may be fully colorized by incorporating a non-toxic dye therein during its formation, and it may also be marked during its formation with an advertisement. The eating utensil is dishwasher-safe and is capable of being reused and washed repeatedly. As depicted in FIGS. 21 through 24A, a serving system for hot drinks in a cup is also provided. It comprises a plurality of separate utensils each being formed from a crop-based resin, and including an insulating sleeve for the cup, a coaster for the cup, and a stirring device.

FIGS. 1-4

As illustrated in FIGS. 1 through 4, one embodiment of this invention, the chopstick 10, includes an elongated rigid body 12 that tapers inward from a handle end 12a to a food-gripping end 12b. This chopstick 10 is a substantially solid, substantially linear structure. Its food-gripping end 12b has a substantially pentagonal cross-sectional configuration as shown in FIG. 3. As shown in FIG. 2, its enlarged handle end 12a opposite the food-gripping end 12b has a substantially triangular cross-sectional configuration with its sides S1, S2, and S3 bowed inward slightly. A handle portion 12c of the chopstick 10 with its triangular cross-sectional configuration extends along the rigid body 12 more than 50% of the entire length of the body from end 12a and end 12b. This triangular cross-sectional configuration provides a comfortable, improved ergonomically feel for a user. A tip portion 12d with a pentagonal cross-sectional configuration extends along the remainder of the rigid body 12 to the end 12b.

An elongated intermediate section 12c includes adjacent and adjoining end sections of the handle portion 12c and tip portion 12d. and includes a transitional portion C1 having a triangular cross-sectional configuration of smaller dimensions than the enlarged end 12a at its section A. Its section B has a pentagonal cross-sectional configuration of greater dimensions than the food-gripping end 12b. The handle portion 12c is integral with the enlarged end 12a, and tapers from a three-wall, triangular structure to a five-wall, pentagonal structure to terminate at the food-gripping end 12b. The intermediate transitional portion C1 decreases in its cross-sectional dimension between the section A and section B along the length of the body 12. The exterior surface 14 of the chopstick 10 nearby the food-gripping end 12b is rough to assist in grasping and holding food.

FIGS. 5-9

As illustrated in FIGS. 5 through 9, another embodiment of this invention, the chopstick 16, is a substantially solid and substantially linear structure. It has a food-gripping end 16b of a substantially pentagonal cross-sectional configuration and an enlarged handle end 16a opposite the food-gripping end having a substantially pentagonal cross-sectional configuration with dimensions greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end.

An elongated intermediate five wall section 16c connects the ends 16a and 16b. This five wall section 16c tapers inward from the enlarged handle end 16a to the food-gripping end 16b and terminates at the food-gripping end. A cavity 18 in the handle end 16a extends lengthwise into the intermediate five wall section 16c approximately from 10 to 30 percent of the length of the chopstick 16. This cavity 18 saves on material but also assists in cooling the handle end 16a during use when eating hot noodle soup, for example. This cavity 18 may be used to hold and store toothpicks, prizes, printed material such as advertisements or fortunes, and other beneficial items. It also has an exterior surface 14a nearby the food-gripping end 16b that is rough to assist in grasping and holding food.

FIGS. 10A-11E

The chopstick 30 depicted in FIGS. 10A through 10E has an elongated body 32 with its handle end 32a and its opposed food-gripping end 32b each having essentially the same polygon geometric shape, namely pentagonal. The dimensions of the handle end 32a are greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end 32b. The body 32 tapers inward between the ends 32a and 32b to provide a cross-sectional configuration that is essentially the same pentagonal shape as the ends but gradually decreases in its cross-sectional dimension along the length of the body 32, with the smallest dimension at the food-gripping end 32b.

The chopstick 40 depicted in FIGS. 11A through 11E has an elongated body 42 with its handle end 42a and its opposed food-gripping end 42b each having different polygon geometric shapes other than rectangular, namely triangular. The dimensions of the handle end 42a are greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end 42b.

FIGS. 12-15

A knife 20 (FIG. 12), a fork 22 (FIG. 13), a spoon 24 (FIG. 14), and a spork 26 (FIG. 15) are also eating utensils that embody this invention-all being capable of being converted into compost after being used and discarded. They are all made from a crop-based resin, such as for example a resin derived from wheat. The knife 20, fork 22, spoon 24 (FIG. 12), and spork 26 are all rigid structures that are heat resistant, being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity.

FIGS. 16A-16F

As illustrated in FIGS. 16A through 16F, another embodiment of this invention, the chopstick 60, is a substantially solid and substantially linear structure. It has a food-gripping end 60b of a substantially hexagonal cross-sectional configuration and an enlarged handle end 60a opposite the food-gripping end having a substantially hexagonal cross-sectional configuration with dimensions greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end.

An elongated intermediate six wall section 60c connects the ends 60a and 60b. This six wall section 60c tapers inward from the enlarged handle end 60a to the food-gripping end 60b and terminates at the food-gripping end. As discussed above, the exterior surface of the food-gripping end 60b is rough to assist in grasping and holding food. This rough surface is formed during molding of the chopstick 60 using a crop-based resin that is biodegradable.

FIGS. 17A and 17B

As illustrated in FIGS. 17A and 17B, another embodiment of this invention, the chopstick 70, is a substantially solid and substantially linear structure. It has a food-gripping end 70b of a substantially hexagonal cross-sectional configuration and an enlarged handle end 60a opposite the food-gripping end having a substantially hexagonal cross-sectional configuration with dimensions greater than the dimensions of the food-gripping end.

An elongated intermediate six wall section 70c connects the ends 70a and 70b. This six wall section 70c tapers inward from the enlarged handle end 70a to the food-gripping end 70b and terminates at the food-gripping end. As discussed above, the exterior surface of the food-gripping end 70b is rough to assist in grasping and holding food. This rough surface is formed during molding of the chopstick 70 using a crop-based resin that is biodegradable.

The main difference between the chopstick 60 and the chopstick 70 is their lengths. The chopstick 60 nominally has a length of about 9.5 inches, which corresponds to 8 sun, a Japanese unit of measurement, and the chopstick 70 nominally has a length of about 8.3 inches corresponding to 7 sun.

FIGS. 18 and 19

The chopstick depicted in FIG. 18 is a six-sided chopstick 80 similar to that discussed above nominally having a length of about 7 inches, which corresponds to 6 sun. The chopstick depicted in FIG. 19 is a six-sided chopstick 90 similar to that discussed above nominally having a length of about 8.3 inches, which corresponds to 7 sun. The chopstick 80 has a dog head 82 attached to its the rear or handle end 80a and its food-gripping end 80b has a roughen surface. The chopstick 90 has a boar head 92 attached to its the rear or handle end 90a and its food-gripping end 90b has a roughen surface. These embodiments illustrate that an ornamental body may be molded into the chopstick so it is integral with the stick body portion of the chopstick. The dog head 82, boar head 92, and the roughen surfaces of the ends 80b and 90b are concurrently formed during molding of the chopsticks 80 and 90, as the case may be.

FIG. 20

Any of the above-described embodiments of the chopstick of this invention may be used as a pair to grasp food in the usual manner. In accordance with this invention, the roughen tips of the chopsticks substantially abut each other lengthwise along a substantial portion of the length of each tip. Each chopstick of the pair has a tip with a rough surface that is tapered from a narrow eating end to an intermediate portion having a thickness greater than the eating end. These tips are tapered in a predetermined manner so that, when using the pair of chopsticks to grasp food, a substantial portion of the rough surface of the tip of one chopstick is nearby a substantial portion of the rough surface of the tip of the other chopstick, facilitating holding food between these the rough surfaces of the chopsticks. The length of the tapered, rough surface tip of each chopstick is at least about one inch.

In FIG. 20 the TABLE I is presented to provide the physical dimensions of the chopsticks illustrated in FIGS. 16A-16F, FIGS. 17A and 17B, FIG. 18, and FIG. 19. Ranges of dimensions are set forth in inches and are examples of chopstick tips that are tapered so that, when using a pair of chopsticks to grasp food, a substantial portion of the rough surface of the tip of one chopstick is nearby a substantial portion of the rough surface of the tip of the other chopstick. For example, as shown in FIG. 18, the over all length of the chopstick is 7.085 inches, the length of the rough tip is 1.25 inch, the eating tip thickness t1 is about 0.099-0.103 inch, the thickness t2 of the inner terminal portion of the rough tip is about 0.205-0.210 inch, the distance to the next taper TNT1 is 1 7/16 inch, to the end of the chopstick, or less than 2⅞ inch, the handle thickness 4 inches from the tip is about 0.264-0.265 inch, and at the handle end is 0.3175. The dimensions for the other chopsticks, shown in FIGS. 16A through 17B and FIG. 19 are also set forth in the Table I.

Method of Manufacture

This invention also includes a method of manufacturing an eating utensil such as for example the utensils discussed above. The method comprises forming the utensil, for example by molding, from a crop-based resin such as a non-toxic, water resistant, heat resistant, and impact resistant wheat-based resin stored under sanitary conditions prior to use. This utensil, which at its largest thickness dimension does not exceed 19 millimeters, will decompose into a compost in a government certified commercial composting facility within 90 days or less after being used and discarded. The utensil made in accordance with this invention will also decompose into compost under non-commercial composting conditions including sewage sludge or in the ground containing microbially-active soil. As discussed above, the utensil typically includes an elongated rigid component that is heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity. It may also be shipped under conditions where the shipping container temperature is as high as 141 degrees Fahrenheit, or even greater, without deforming and losing rigidity.

The crop-based resin is heat-treated to control its moisture content so that it contains a low water content, for example, substantially from 0 to 3 weight percent water when used to form the utensil. After formation the utensil may be packaged automatically in sealed packaging under substantially clean room conditions without being contacted directly by humans or exposed to other sources of contamination. A high speed, fully sanitary poly-bagging system provides hygienically-sanitary wrapped eating utensils. Restaurants and others in Asian and other countries afflicted or potentially afflicted with S.A.R.'s and/or Bird Flu Virus or other diseases are refusing to purchase disposable utensils that may be virus contaminated by hand-touching. Consequently, in accordance with the method of this invention hand-touching is avoided because the utensils are manufactured with robotic equipment and clean-room machinery and then automatically sealed, thereby producing a hygienic, recyclable and compostable, disposable eating utensil.

The eating utensils after being used may be recycled by grinding and reforming into other products such as those mentioned above. These other products may also be recycled. This recycling may be conducted over a period of fifty years or more.

FIGS. 21-24A

The one embodiment of the serving system this invention is depicted in FIGS. 21 through 24A is generally indicated by the numeral 100. The serving system 100 is used with a cup C for hot drinks and comprises separate utensils including an insulating sleeve 102 for the cup, a coaster 104 for the cup, and a stirring device 106. Each of these separate utensils 102, 104, and 106 is formed from a crop-based resin as discussed above, and each utensil decomposes into a compost in a certified commercial composting facility within at least 90 days to produce an environmentally-safe compost and each is heat resistant being able to remain in hot water at a temperature of at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 minutes without any substantial loss in rigidity.

As best shown in FIGS. 21 and 22, the insulating sleeve 102 comprises a tapered circular wall 102a formed from the crop-based resin. This wall 102a has open opposed ends E1 and E2 and an internal surface 103 with a plurality of projections 103a thereon that contact an external surface 105 of the cup C to form between the internal surface 103 of the sleeve 102 and the external surface 105 of the cup insulating air pockets upon placing the sleeve on the cup as shown in FIG. 22 The projections 103a may comprise a plurality of substantially parallel alternating ridges and grooves extending at least partially between the open ends of the sleeve.

As best shown in FIGS. 24 and 24A, the coaster 104 for the cup C comprises a planar member 110 having a maximum thickness T dimension of 19 millimeters. The center of one surface of the planar member 110 includes a substantially circular depression therein configured to receive a lower end of the cup as shown in FIG. 24A.

As best shown in FIGS. 23 and 23A, the stirring device 106 for a hot drink comprises a substantially flat, thin, elongated member 106a having a length substantially from 3 to 7 inches, a width substantially from ¼ to ¾ inch, and a maximum thickness dimension of ¼ inch A user, while holding the cup C containing the hot drink with one hand and using the other hand to grip the stirring device 106, inserts the stirring device into the hot drink and stirs.

Scope of the Invention

The above presents a description of the best mode contemplated of carrying out the present invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains to make and use this invention. This invention is, however, susceptible to modifications and alternate constructions from that discussed above which are fully equivalent. Consequently, it is not the intention to limit this invention to the particular embodiments disclosed. On the contrary, the intention is to cover all modifications and alternate constructions coming within the spirit and scope of the invention as generally expressed by the following claims, which particularly point out and distinctly claim the subject matter of the invention: