If you’re organising a celebration or a big event, you’ve no doubt wondered how you can make it as eco-friendly as possible.
You know that single-use plastic is terrible for the environment, so you’ve decided to ditch disposable plastic plates in favour of something greener.
Paper plates seem like the easiest and most obvious option. But according to our research, they aren’t as eco-friendly as they’re made out to be.
Keep reading to learn the positives of using paper plates, the negatives and how you can choose a better, more eco-friendly option instead.
Good Things About Paper Plates
1. You don’t need to wash up
When you use paper plate, you can just throw them away without needing to worry about washing up. Washing up isn’t just a hassle; it can have quite an impact on the planet too.
You’ll be using water, perhaps harsh chemicals in that water and you’ll need to use power to heat that water too. Even if you have a highly efficient, modern dishwasher, it won’t be much better as the machine also needs to use electricity to power the device.
Choosing paper plates means you don’t need to worry about this stuff. You just buy them, use them and then you’re done.
2. They are often 100% biodegradable and compostable
Unlike plastic plates, paper plates are often fully compostable. If you buy compostable plates, they will decompose if you pop them into your home compost along with the other veggie scraps, grass, wood and paper.
The situation if they’re sent to landfill is slightly trickier—they should take around five years to decompose in landfill. Although this does depend on how they’re handled. If they’re placed into sealed plastic containers, this is less likely to happen.
3. You aren’t adding more plastic to the world
A paper plate is a better alternative to plastic plates as they’re biodegradable and decomposable.
Plastic plates and cutlery are likely to take hundreds or even thousands of years to decompose. Although they are technically recyclable, a lot of recyclable plastic doesn’t get recycled. This is because many kerbside recycling facilities don’t recycle all types of plastic. This means they just end up in landfill, being incinerated or ending up in the ocean.
Bad Things About Paper Plates
1. You can’t recycle them
Because paper plates are usually contaminated with food residue after they’ve been used, they can’t be recycled. You can pop them into your home compost, and they will decompose. Otherwise they’ll simply end up in landfill with the rest of your household rubbish.
2. Papermaking is dirty
When paper is made, it uses a range of potentially dangerous chemicals which are harmful to wildlife and plant-life and is harmful to the workers themselves.
This is because the wood pulp must be bleached to achieve that perfect whiteness using chlorine and several other chemicals.
Chlorine is a hazardous chemical which can cause red, sore, burning eyes and throat as well as coughing and breathing difficulties. High amounts can also damage lungs and airways.
Many of the by-products of paper making are discharged into the environment and can kill fish and other marine life, discolour and pollute rivers and contribute to air pollution.
According to The United States Environmental Protection Agency, the pulp and paper industry in North America alone is responsible for around 10% of the total release of fine particulate matter into the environment. The figure is likely to be similar for the UK and the rest of the world.
3. Trees get chopped down
Figures suggest that around 4 billion trees are cut down every year to make paper. This results in a loss of habitat for numerous species, worsens deforestation and can also impact upon land erosion.
Although that paper is a sustainable resource as it can be replanted easily when cut down, it’s not quite that simple.
Ideally, a forest would be as natural as possible, containing the right balance of flora to allow numerous species to thrive. For commercial reasons, trees ‘farmed’ for paper often don’t provide this environment.
Biodegradable Plates You Can Buy in the UK
As you can see, although paper plates seem to be a better choice than plastic disposable plates, the reality isn’t clear-cut.
If you want to be as eco-friendly as possible, you should always opt for reusable options and wash up using eco-friendly detergents, using a minimum of water.
However, if you really can’t break up with those disposable plates, there are numerous alternatives to paper that could be more eco-friendly, more sustainable and create less pollutants than paper. These include:
- Bamboo disposable plates – See on Amazon.co.uk
- Sugarcane leaf plates – See on Amazon.co.uk
- Palm leaf plates – See on Amazon.co.uk
- Wheat straw plates – See on Amazon.co.uk
As they are biodegradable and compostable, paper plates are a better choice than plastic plates. But only if you’re putting them into your compost bin.
Otherwise it’s must better to stick with reusable or search for eco-friendly alternatives such as plates made from bamboo, palm leaf or sugar cane instead.
Charlotte Witts is a writer and entrepreneur who wants to show you how easy it is to live a more conscious, zero-waste lifestyle. A confirmed yoga-addict, trail runner and ocean-lover, she currently lives in the Azores where she enjoys the simple pleasures in life.