Plastic cutlery is used around the world by restaurants and food service businesses. Unfortunately, it wastes a lot of resources and is rarely recycled.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Today, we’d like to share 2 quick reasons why you shouldn’t be using plastic cutlery, the 2 reasons why most people & businesses do use it, and then a few recommendations for both consumers and businesses who would like to reduce their plastic cutlery consumption.
First of all, only 6% of all plastic waste in the US is recycled. Let me repeat that – only 6% of all plastic waste in the US is recycled. That’s a very low number.
Most plastic cutlery is made from a type of plastic known as polystyrene1. Polystyrene or expanded polystyrene is more commonly referred to as Styrofoam. It is very difficult torecycle Styrofoam. Most municipalities simply do not offer Styrofoam recycling and thus plastic cutlery that is put into a recycling bin is usually just sorted out at the recycling facility and sent to a landfill.
This is a bit of a no-brainer, but I want to paint the full picture here. If you use plastic cutlery and don’t or can’t recycle it, then it’s sent to a landfill.
If you use compostable cutlery however it can be composted and instead of piling up in a landfill it can be used as fertilizer in your garden (or in someone else’s garden).
If you’re using re-usable cutlery or metal cutlery, even better. You completely avoid the process of creating a single use item, and again – no solid waste is created.
But solid waste isn’t the only thing that’s wasteful about plastic cutlery. Plastic cutlery also takes energy and water to create. Some compostable food packaging manufacturers for instance canmake 2 compostable forks (made of PLA derived from corn) using the same energy used to make 1 polystyrene fork.
The simple fact is that compostable utensils are one of the few compostable food packaging items where costs have not come down significantly, relative to available plastic options. A case of compostable cutlery can be 3x or 4x the price of a case of plastic cutlery ($10 for a case of 1,000 plastic forks vs $30-$40 for a case of 1,000 compostable forks). This can be tough to stomach, particularly for small business owners of restaurants & cafes who operate on very thin margins.
The trouble is that the cost of plastic cutlery doesn’t account for its full environmental cost. It doesn’t account for the landfill space needed, the increased energy used to manufacture it, and it sure doesn’t account for the BP Oil Spills of the world.
Plastic cutlery makes life easier on businesses, who instead of having to wash a host of metal forks, spoons, and knives, can simply ask cutomers to discard their cutlery once they’re done eating.
It also makes life easier on consumers who are hosting events or parties with a large amount of guests. No clean-up involved – simply toss the utensils in the trash.
This factor I take serious issue with however. Most households and businesses have dishwashers that make the cleaning process very quick and efficient… and even if they don’t, how long does is really take to clean a big batch of utensils?