Are Paper Plates Bad For The Environment?

Shifting to sustainable options and making eco-conscious moves can be pretty challenging sometimes.

Paper plates have taken over plastic and ceramic Tupperware because they provide maximum convenience. One doesn’t have to worry about doing dishes or stacking up loads of Tupperware in the dishwasher after a party.

Moreover, paper plates are made of pressed wood pulp which makes them recyclable and it is a sustainable option. But are paper plates entirely recyclable? No.

Does dumping paper plates pose a serious threat to the environment?

The answer to this burning question is Yes, But how?

Paper Plates Are Not Completely Recyclable

The ease of recycling depends directly on the type of material used for manufacturing. Paper plates use the wood pulp as a primary material but for decorative purposes, it is covered with a layer of polyethylene.

To maintain a paper plate’s durability and waterproofing, it is sometimes covered with aluminum and wax.

If paper plates were made of wood pulp only, they were completely recyclable, but when it comes to aluminum coating and waterproofing wax, the recycling process is hindered.

Wood Pulp Plates Are Decomposable

Paper plates are made of wood pulp, which is an organic component that comes from trees. The decomposing ability of a product depends on the purity of the organic compound used.

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Regular paper plates with no plastic, wax, or aluminum layer can easily break down and decompose.

In the case of paper plates, polyethylene is also involved, which takes up to 40-60 days to decompose completely.

The thickness of paper plates also affects the decomposition process, the thicker the plate, the slower the decomposition process.

To What Extent Are Paper Plates Compostable

Paper plates when buried along with other organic matter in your backyard are compostable.

Composting works on the mechanism of breaking down organic matter. If paper plates have chemical coatings like wax or are lined with polyethylene, the chances of paper plate composting are relatively low.

It is true that paper plates are compostable but they have a certain limitation, and that is the materials used in coating a paper plate.

The Environmental Impacts Caused By Manufacturing Of Paper Plates

Paper plates are manufactured by pressing wood pulp or paper. Wood pulp comes from cutting trees which is not an eco-friendly act.

Paper plates are made of two layers; a pulp layer and a polyethylene layer. These two layers are pressed between a die and a paper plate is made.

For value addition, some paper plates are covered with an aluminum layer and others may have a microwave-safe plastic layer or waterproofing wax layer.

The manufacturing of one paper plate requires eight (8) gallons of water and loads of chlorine and other bleaching agents.

This industrial wastage, when seeps into the soil or gets drained into nearby waterbody, poses a great threat to vegetation and wildlife.

The Environmental Impacts Of Paper Plates

Despite having awareness of the climate crisis, most of our waste goes straight into landfills and dumping sites. Disposing of paper plates can be a tricky task as well as they pose a great threat to the environment.

  • The usage of paper plates has increased exponentially which has led to overfilling of landfill sites.
  • Used paper plates have soaked up grease and fats from the food served in them so they do not decompose easily.
  • If paper plates are dumped in a plastic bag, the anaerobic condition occurs and makes their degradation extra challenging.
  • Polyethylene or wax-coated paper plates do not decompose easily and stay longer in the landfill site than regular paper plates.
  • Moreover, the carbon footprint of paper plate manufacturing is quite high as it requires 8 gallons of water to produce one single-use paper plate.
  • Paper plates are expensive when it comes to budgeting, which means they are not a cost-effective option.
  • Paper plates are used widely but are not durable, which means they have high yield but zero durability, higher yields require high wood pulp production which involves cutting trees.
  • Burning of paper plates can also lead to smoke production which causes air pollution.
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What Are The Alternatives To Paper Plates

Several environmentally sane options are present in the market which serve as an alternative to paper plates. Paper plates guarantee comfort but are bad for the environment.

Bamboo Plates

The Bamboo tree sheds its sheath naturally which is then used to make plates. No chemicals or toxins are involved in making bamboo plates.

Bamboo plates sit on the top hierarchy because they are highly recyclable, can decompose over a short period of time, is biodegradable, and can fertilize your plants via composting.

Banana Leaves

One of the most eco-friendly alternatives to paper plates is using banana leaves as plates.

All you need is a banana leaf, wash it completely, and let it dry. You can use it as it is or you can mold its corners to make edges.

Banana leaves are conducive to recycling and are biodegradable. Banana leaves when added to the compost pile, are enriched with potassium and magnesium.

Sugarcane Plates

Sugarcanes grow in abundance. After the juice is extracted, the pressed sugarcane residue is processed to make sugarcane plates.

Sugarcane plates are durable and highly sustainable. Sugarcane plate has an organic origin and it is a valuable addition to your backyard compost.

Ceramic And Glass Plates

Ceramic and glass plates are reusable plates that are commonly used in our households. They require washing and drying after usage.

Both ceramic and glass are recyclable materials and can be recycled and upcycled into various useful things posing no serious threat to the environment.

Conclusion

Paper plates when only made of wood pulp are sustainable and cause no serious threat to the environment after use. However, the making of paper plates has a high carbon footprint and involves cutting off trees and gallons of water.

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To opt for a sustainable and eco-conscious option, it is recommended to use reusable plates made of ceramics or glass. You can also use banana leaf plates to add a touch of creativity to your parties.

Other environmentally friendly alternatives include sugarcane, birch plates, and bamboo plates.