It’s no secret that more and more Americans these days are looking for eco-friendly alternatives to items they use every day. After all, if there was a way you could reduce your environmental impact without it significantly affecting your life, wouldn’t you?
One way you can do that is by reducing the number of disposable plastic utensils you use (and encouraging the food establishments you frequent to do the same).
According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, “more than 100 million pieces of plastic utensils are used by Americans every day. They can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, leaking harmful substances into the earth while they are breaking down.” Those are big numbers, but if even one person replaces their disposable plastic utensils with an eco-friendly alternative, it will make a big impact. Imagine if more did.
Whether you’re eating out or hosting a party, here are several alternatives for you to consider.
Let’s start with the most well-known and easy-to-access option: recycled cutlery. There are different versions of what can be labeled “recycled,” so you’ll have to pay attention to what they’re made from and how good they really are for the environment.
You can find, for example, plastic cutlery made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled polystyrene. By using recycled plastic, this product conserves resources, which is better for the environment than utensils made of virgin plastic. But they’re still technically single-use plastics that you probably can’t recycle.
If you prefer a more sustainable, plastic-free option, manufacturers like India-based Pappco Greenware, for example, make cutlery and other food packaging from wood and agricultural waste like sugarcane and bamboo.
Next, we come to utensils that are biodegradable or compostable. These are slightly controversial, as most “compostable” plastic requires an industrial composting facility to break down (even if it’s BPI certified). And they won’t biodegrade in your backyard compost pile. Additionally, most municipal compost services can’t process compostable or biodegradable utensils or packaging.
However, cutlery that is wood- or plant-based can be truly compostable. These forks from Birchware, for example, “are able to decompose in your backyard compost bin in about 45 days.” (By comparison, here’s a product labeled 100 percent compostable, but it requires an industrial facility.) A good general conclusion you can make is that if it’s “plastic-like,” it’s probably not compostable in your backyard. Green Mountain Compost breaks this concept down further (no pun intended).
Edible cutlery is a fairly new alternative to plastic utensils. Popular in India, this concept is only starting to take off in the United States. These utensils are mostly limited to spoons at this point and are made from a flour mix of jowar (sorghum), rice, and wheat. Two of the most popular brands are Bakeys Foods and Bocado. They stand up to everything from hot soup to ice cream, but there is room for improvement in design, as they could last longer and taste better.
Many of us already carry a reusable water bottle and/or coffee cup when we leave the house, so why not bring your own cutlery kit as well? Pre-made kit options range from stainless steel to bamboo and some even include chopsticks or straws. Or, you can easily make your own. Wrap a spoon, fork, and knife in a cloth napkin and maybe a small case — and don’t forget your reusable straw or chopsticks if you use them. Stow your kit in your backpack, briefcase, purse, or car so it’s handy when you need it.
Bonus tip: If you’re throwing a party and don’t have enough table settings for the group, ask a friend to loan you some of theirs. Set out a tub filled with soapy water to dump the used utensils in and they’ll be easy to clean after the party.
You can avoid using plastic utensils with a little effort. If your favorite eating establishment uses throwaway plastic, bring your own reusables. And be sure to let the business know that you enjoy eating there but would prefer more sustainable options, such as those mentioned above. Restaurants will respond to customer demand when it starts affecting their business. And the fewer plastic utensils businesses buy, the fewer manufacturers will produce.
But there is still quite a bit of room for improvement, especially in America. To do your part, start using these alternatives or reach out to the customer service departments of utensil manufacturers and voice your desire for more eco-friendly options. You can change the world, one spoon, fork, or knife at a time!
This article contains affiliate links that help fund our Recycling Directory, the most comprehensive in North America. If you purchase an item through one of these links, we will receive a small commission.
Daniel Berry is an SEO strategist with more than 14 years of professional writing experience. Daniel regularly tries to think outside the box when it comes to SEO, copywriting, social media, lead generation, marketing automation, and other areas of digital marketing. He and his family make efforts to be eco-friendly as much as possible.
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