Choose reusable food service items

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Whether you're hosting a wedding, a barbecue, or a holiday meal, or are trying to eliminate waste in your office, investing in reusable food service items makes good green sense. Not only do you prevent single-use tableware from being tossed, but you also curb the number of health-harming contaminants that seep into ecosystems from landfills. And because reusables have a longer life than disposables, you’ll likely conserve a little green in your bank account, too.

How to choose reusable dishes and flatware

Finding the right reusable items depends on the size and requirements of your occasion.

  • Day-to-day meals and snacks: Whether you’re packing daily lunches for the family or sharing coffee with a colleague, stay away from throw-aways like plastic bags and individual servings. Avoid toss-outs by bringing your own coffee mug, water bottle, or knives, forks, and plates. Offices can encourage employees to eat from reusables by supplying the necessary dishes and flatware or asking staff to donate old dinnerware for use in the company kitchen or commissary.
  • Casual entertaining: If you’re throwing a small gathering in the backyard, run-of-the-mill dishes will often do. But if breakage is a concern or you’re entertaining away from home or the office, diners can use non-disposable, drop-safe dishes and cups. You can choose to provide plates and cups made from recycled or biodegradable materials, or ask attendees to bring their own.
  • Special event planning: Whether it’s a wedding, conference or birthday party at a hotel or restaurant, check with the venue to see if it provides real dinnerware. If not, look into renting—it's cheaper than buying—unless, of course, you find the perfect place setting for 100 at your local thrift store. Engraved wine glasses or champagne flutes are great party favors as well.
  • Holiday meals: When hosting family and friends for a holiday dinner, skip the paper cups and napkins and use reusable ones instead. You may have more dishes to wash at the end of the night, but ask your family members to pitch in and help with the clean up.
  • Rent-a-plate providers: Rental company directories such as All Time Favorites, Gathering Guide, and PartyPOP will make event planning a breeze. Search with confidence for a local rental agency that provides everything from serving utensils to portable dishwashers.

Choosing reusable food service items helps you go green because…

  • You're not creating trash, and the dishes and cutlery can be reused. This saves energy and will keep money in your pocket.

The use of disposable dinnerware is common. For big parties, picnics, and barbecues—at home, the office, or an event space—using disposable dishes and cutlery is often more convenient than relying on reusable ones. But throw-away dishes create mountains of waste. Americans toss out about 25 billion polystyrene cups per year.[1] Plastic makes up 11 percent of municipal solid waste in the US (paper makes up 35 percent).[2] If their eventual resting place is in a landfill, they’ll take hundreds of years to break down. For example, a single polystyrene cup has an expected lifetime of over 500 years.[3] But many petroleum-based plates, cups, and forks don't make it to the landfill—they instead end up polluting our waters and beaches. The Alguita Research Institute notes that the ratio of plastic to plankton in the oceans is 6:1 and rising.[4]

Styrofoam and plastic plates, cutlery, and cups, as well as the plastic bottles we so often drink from are made from crude oil, a non-renewable and non-biodegradable resource. The production of the petrochemicals used in these products supports the hazards of the petroleum industry, which include about 2.6 million gallons of oil spilled every month during transportation and about 71 million pounds of toxins released into the air and water during refinement.[5][6]

Disposable coffee cups pose their own unique problems. A 2003 study by Starbucks found that 13.5 million reusable-cup-carrying customers kept more than 586,000 pounds of trash out of landfills in that year alone.[7]

Paper disposables are no better, since they require enormous quantities of trees to be extracted from forests. If every household in the US replaced a package of 40 paper plates with recycled options, 487,000 trees would be saved.[8]

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