A lovely repost from Viv Business Club about the un-crunchiness of plastic cutlery, because I’ve got crazy amounts of event planning to do.Plastic Cutlery

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.

Why you shouldn’t use plastic cutlery

#1 – The vast majority of plastic cutlery can’t be recycled

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 to recycle 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.

#2 – It creates waste

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 can make 2 compostable forks (made of PLA derived from corn) using the same energy used to make 1 polystyrene fork.


Why plastic cutlery is so widely used today

#1 – Cost

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.

#2 – Convenience

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?


Recommendations

For consumers, I’d like to recommend the following:

  1. Use re-usable metal cutlery whenever you’re eating at home with your family.
  2. If you’re throwing a big event and must use disposables, please purchase compostable cutlery.
  3. If you’re offered plastic cutlery by a business (e.g., you’re picking up some to go food), ask yourself if you really need it. Over the past few years, I’ve started turning down almost all plastic cutlery that I’m offered. It’s a bit awkward at first with cashiers, but you get used it, and it’s the only way we’re going to educate businesses that they don’t need to hand out plastic cutlery in every to go bag.

For businesses and restaurants, I’d like to recommend the following:

  1. For customers that are dining in, please use metal re-usable cutlery. Plastic just doesn’t taste good in your mouth and you’ll find most of your customers would much prefer to eat with metal cutlery (I know I do). The improved dining experience should be well worth the cleaning, and in the end you’ll end up saving money as you’ll only be paying for a little water and soap to wash your cutlery… as opposed to paying for a new fork for each customer.
  2. For customers that are getting their food delivered – they’re at home! What home does not have metal cutlery in the drawer. These folks do not need disposables.
  3. For customers that are taking their food to go, please ask them if they need disposable cutlery before simply putting it in their to go bag. Many customers are heading home or back to work where they have access to re-usable cutlery and will simply throw away your plastic cutlery (I know you’ve seen this happen just as many times as I have). Save the cutlery and the money and ask the question first.
  4. And lastly, in the event you do have to give out disposable cutlery – use compostable cutlery. Not plastic.

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