Monday, May 30, 2011

The Ultra Green Party

This past Sunday we had a BBQ. We fed 17 people. And while I do have 17 dinner plates, I opted to use paper plates.

We have a gazebo that we eat dinner in all the time during the summer and we always use real plates, flatware and cups. I never feel like disposable plates save me that much time,  I mean how hard is it to wash 3 dinner plates? Besides, I'm not using disposable cookware so it's not like I could get out of dishwashing anyway.  And why pay for plates when I already have some. And using disposables in my home makes me feel a little guilty and like I'm literally throwing money away....

Anyway, I don't know why I thought I needed paper plates for this party. But I was thinking in the interest of ease.  I know they have those plates made out of sustainable material, I could just go with those I reasoned.

But when I got to the store they had these nifty disposable items made out of cornstarch! Flatware and cups! And the plates made from sugar cane. And all of them are suitable for composting.

So I bought them all.

However, you know, when you thow something out, if you just toss it in the garbage, that garbage in landfills is packed so tightly, that even if you DO get something that will break down, there is no oxygen in there. Nothing is really breaking down at all. And if so, not that fast. These things are supposed to break down in 60-150 days in the proper conditions (Those conditions not being a landfill.)

No sweat, I thought, I'll just collect the stuff from the guests and compost it myself. This prompted one guest to comment dryly that I was "a lot of fun at parties...."  AndAnd it was messy. We had pulled pork, and baked beans and coleslaw....

But dutifully, I collected the stuff to do my part and put it all in this huge bowl that I have for moving out to the pile.

However, after everyone left I noted that the flatware was rather thick (and as I recalled, not that cheap) and how hard would it be to just wash it. (Not very) So I did. Same with the cups. This made me wonder why I even bought these things at all, I mean if I'm going to wash cups anyway, why not just use real ones. In fact, I even have a high effencicy dish washer...

So now I have some thick cornstrach plastic cups and flatware that I wouldn't buy to have in my house in the first place.

I don't even think I can recycle them because they aren't technically made of plastic and have no recycle # on the bottom.

I've been thinking we can use them for eating outside and picnics all summer long and by the end of the summer the utensils will start getting smaller and smaller and the cups will spring leaks :-)

As much as they are touted as a nice alternative to plastic and paper someone still had to make these in a factory somewhere and then ship them all the way to my Wegmans where they were waiting for someone like me who wants to feel all good about themselves for making better choices. They were still using resources to make and ship them just so I could hold my pulled pork sandwich on my lap for 15 minutes. It hardly seems worth it. A better choice would have been to use plates I already had.

Unless you compost them yourself, it's only a marginally better choice. And even at that, how many plates do you really want to collect from your guests and then have to compost yourself? Probably not many. How many parties is this really realistic for?

In the interest of seeing how these things work, I buried all of the plates, one cup and one fork to see if/when they  break down. I also left 2 cups next to the pile, but exposed to the elements to see what happens to those. I'll report back in 150 days. 

On the plus side, I think if you are going to throw awaqy utensils and cups, these are your  probably your best bet because they aren't made of plastic and do have a better chance (small though it may be) of breaking down than your average solo cups.

But for me, I'll just go back to what I was doing before-using things I already owned, which I always think is the most earth-friendly thing you can do....

What on earth was I thinking anyway?


Maren McCoy Kyle said...

Something you can do if you want to avoid throwing anything out, but don't have enough plates/cups/utensils in your home for the # of guests you will host:

Buy a bunch at the thrift store! Then, after the party, you can re-donate whatever you don't want to keep. If you play your cards right this would cost about the same as buying disposable stuff.

Christine said...

I'm sure it would cost the same! I have a lot of plates but just a normal amount of flatware. I was actually thinking that I should look for a set of flatware at a garage sale this summer for exactly this reason!

Tree Huggin Momma said...

If you buy odds and ends flatware you can tie it all together with a cloth napkin in bundles (fork, spoon, knife) and it can add to the decor.

Toni said...

As always a great post :) Thank you for your insight!!! I think you might find my old flatwear at the salvation army on Ridge Rd. ;) That is where I dropped it off in December :)....I am totally stealing the idea of Maren's Purchase and re-donate... GENIOUS!!!!

Christine said...

I'll look for it Toni, you always have great taste!! :-)

I'm sure now that this is what I'm going to do (get secondhand flatware.) I bet I could get a whole set for $5. The cornstartch ones cost $4.

Of course, I could always get this new set and use my others for my "party" set

I adore this one and it it would match my bee glasses.

Meredith said...

I have been going back and forth on this issue for a while now. With so many great eco-options out there, it seems like a good idea to buy them and use them. Voting with the dollar and all that. But you are right about how they will probably take much longer than the advertised decomp rate in the average landfill.
In trying to save time for me, my husband bought some bio-plates and cups to cut down on my dishwashing. I had mixed feelings in that yes, it does take time and water to wash dishes and tossing them would be easier. And you feel a little better knowing they are biodegradable. But, like you said, it takes a long time and all the extra manufacturing costs and shipping costs do add up.
For me, I just use what I have a wash it. That way I know that I am operating on an almost closed-loop system and not contributing to the cycle.