The Greener Side of Disposable Tableware

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The idea of disposable cups and plates has been frowned upon by environmentalists for years, and single-use tableware manufacturers are responding with new features that makes disposable more eco-friendly.

One of the primary examples has been the production of plastic cups and silverware from recycled plastic. The Solo Cup Company, which has been making disposable tableware since 1936, has an entire line of products made from post-consumer recycled Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Bare™ by Solo will be donating its products to this year’s Keep America Beautiful Great American Cleanup, an event where disposable will be needed because there will be three million expected volunteers.

Sometimes disposable dinnerware is unavoidable, but you can make smarter choices when you're purchasing it. Photo:

Sometimes disposable dinnerware is unavoidable, but you can make smarter choices when you're purchasing it. Photo:

The cups are  about 20 percent recycled PET, which also provides a market for the tons of plastic bottles Americans recycle every year. Unlike aluminum and glass containers, it is difficult to turn recycled plastic bottles into new bottles, so many times alternative uses are sought for this recycled resin.

Taking it one step further are companies like Preserve, who produce tableware from a thicker resin of plastic that allow them to be used multiple times. Preserve makes products from 100 percent recycled polypropylene (PP), which is a less common resin of plastic that is not as widely accepted in curbside recycling programs as PET.

Disposal of Disposables

When determining if your disposable dishes can be recycled, take into consideration the following: If food can be cleaned from the product (in the case of some plastic tableware), and if it has a plastic recycling symbol that is accepted by your community, generally it can be recycled. For example, any of Preserve’s products are recyclable in community programs that accept plastic number five. But when it comes to products that may absorb food, as in paper products, they will not be collected for recycling because of a number of issues:

  1. Potential contamination based on contact with food
  2. Some are coated with wax for temperature control that can’t be separated during recycling

The advantage of single-use tableware made from recycled content is that while the final destination is inevitably a landfill, instead of throwing away plastic that has had one use, these cups and plates have had multiple life cycles.

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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