Disposable dishes are a bad deal all around. They are unsustainable, negatively affecting both the environment and your pocket; they are flimsy and uncomfortable to handle, apt to being turned over by a gust of wind or squashed by an elbow. Ideally, I’d never let them into the house, but convenience trumps all, and sometimes I end up reaching for a plastic plate to serve a snack, or let my kids take disposable cups for their drink, because all our cups somehow ended up in the pile of dirty dishes in the sink (I assure you I have no idea how this happened).
Furthermore, in our area we sometimes suffer from water shortages that may last for days on end. When the tap isn’t flowing and I have no idea when I’m next going to have the chance to wash the dishes, I reach for the stash of disposables with a pang of guilt, but also with a feeling of resignation. It’s just too much for me to watch the sink pile up and up without knowing when it’s going to be relieved.
Nevertheless, I have devised strategies to using less disposable plates, cups and utensils that work for us. The first and most obvious would be to buy less of them, and make sure they are reserved for such water-less emergencies as I mentioned above. Also, it makes sense to buy the flimsiest, least convenient sort, to make the use of them less tempting.
Another method is to keep disposable plates and cups well out of sight. When my husband bought a disposable cup holder and placed it on the kitchen counter, declaring it would be convenient, I declared it’s a bad idea. Of course it would be convenient! But we don’t want it to be. When the disposables are stashed away in some dark recesses of the pantry-shelves, they are less likely to be found and used – it’s handier to quickly wash up a cup or two than go looking for those plastic or Styrofoam ones.
Yet another nifty little strategy is penalizing yourself and your family for using disposable utensils. Set aside a little coin-box where tiny fines can be paid for using disposables. It may sound funny, but it works. Even insignificant sums raise our awareness of how many disposable dishes we use, and make us think twice before reaching for a plastic cup.
Biodegradable Plates, Cups and Utensils
There are also disposable utensils that are eco-friendly and bio-degradable, or even compostable. They are more expensive, that’s true, but they exist (though, in all fairness, I must say they can only be found in specialized stores around here). It’s a fair option for picnics, trips, or hosting large numbers of people.
Finally, it’s possible to get more use out of disposable utensils by using them more than once before recycling. This kind of defies the definition of disposable, I know, but if not actually very dirty, with a quick rinse or shaking out of crumbs a disposable cup or plate can actually be used more than once, either for eating or serving food or for other purposes. A nearly-clean disposable plate can be used for children’s art or starting seeds between folds of moist paper towels. A once-used disposable cup can hold water for washing brushes while water coloring, or serve as a miniature earth pot for seedlings.
Ideally, I’d rather not have any disposable kitchen utensils in the house at all. But as so far they are a necessity (or deemed so by everyone else in the family) I try to make the best of it by using them as little as possible, and making the most out of those I do use.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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