It’s no secret that people started using biodegradable paper plates to avoid washing up.
But that wasn’t the only reason; many people felt they were the most eco-friendly options out there (other than ceramic).
The problem is, paper plates might not be as eco-friendly as they seem.
I guess the first question is, do paper plates really biodegrade? And what effects is this having on the planet? If you want to find out more, keep reading!
Are Paper Plates Biodegradable?
In most cases, you’ll find that paper plates are biodegradable. The problem is some paper plates get covered in wax and plastic lining, which isn’t great.
The other thing is, they can actually take a very long time to decompose when not in the right settings.
If sent to a landfill site, the paper plates could take up to five years to decompose. This time can be speeded up, but it depends on how much moisture and heat it receives.
It also depends on the thickness of the plate; as you can imagine, the thicker the plates, the more time it will take to decompose.
Are Biodegradable Paper Plates Eco-friendly?
Not really, and let me explain why:
The paper industry is causing severe damaging effects to our forest and jungles all around the world.
The problem is most paper plates require virgin wood, which is due to the stronger fibers. This results in trees getting cut down unnecessarily.
Don’t get me wrong tree farming has become a lot more sustainable, but it still has a lot of faults. Like the carbon footprint it leaves behind, or animals that lose their homes. And it gets worse:
To get the unnatural white color, the wood pulp has to be bleached, and this is causing some severe damage.
When chlorine is used in large quantities, it can be one of the most hazardous materials used in large industries. It’s known to cause cancer as well as reproductive and immune system damage.
Once the paper has been bleached, the chemical leftovers usually end up being dumped or overflowing into a nearby water source. This contaminates the water and food we need to survive.
There’s on more thing I’d like to mention, and that’s the recyclability of paper plates.
The thing is they get greasy and covered in food, which means they can’t get recycled due to contamination problems. In the end, it doesn’t make them much better than plastic.
But hey, at least the decompose, right?
So, what’s the best alternative?
What Can I Use Instead Of A Paper Plate?
If you’re starting to feel a little bit guilty about using paper plates, fear not, I have plenty of biodegradable plates to have a look at.
If you’re trying to find a biodegradable plate, which offers a little more sustainability, then you have a few options.
Ever since plastic started coming under attack, people have tried to become more inventive with the materials they’re using. Some of the best compostable plates are:
- Sugarcane plates – It a great material to use, and it gets harvested in abundance, and the best bit is, they use the leftovers after the sugar has got created. All these factors make sugarcane extremely sustainable and compostable.
- Palm leaf plates – This is an interesting one; the palm leaves get harvested from the tree in a way it won’t be damaged. The leaves then get pressed under extreme heat (imagine a large iron), which forms the plates. Once finished, they come out with a wooden effect.
- Bamboo plates – Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet; some species can grow up to 36 inches in one day. The best bit is the bamboo can be harvested without harming or stunning the growth of the plant.
- Plant fiber plates – Plates can be made with all types of plant fiber, including hemp and flax shive. Both are waste products from the plant and can be found in abundance.
All of the materials above get used in the manufacturing of biodegradable plates, as well as a few others. But what makes them really special is they’re compostable and sustainable.
Can You Compost Dirty Paper Plates?
I mentioned earlier that we couldn’t recycle paper plates, which is a shame.
It’s all down to the grease that gets left behind on the plate, which makes composting your dirty paper plates the best option. And composting isn’t even that hard, which is fantastic.
All you have to do is tear the dirty plates into little pieces and place them in your compost bin; it really is that easy.
From there, you have the option of sending it to a commercial compost setting or merely making your own compost heap.
One thing to remember is wax coated plates, plastic-lined plates won’t be able to decompose. When you’re tearing it into little pieces, you’ll be able to feel the coating.
Hopefully, that’s helped you understand the problems surrounding biodegradable paper plates.
And fingers crossed, I’ve opened your eyes to a range of different materials you can use instead. My favorites are bamboo plates and sugarcane plates; they’re very compostable and highly sustainable.
When you’re buying a new set, make sure you check for biodegradable packaging, you’ll be surprised how many use plastic to wrap the biodegradable plates.
If you found this article interesting or you have some questions that need answering feel free to leave a comment below. In the meantime, have you ever wondered “is glass biodegradable?” Well now you can find out!