What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Plastic Cutlery?

DM Gutierrez

Plastic cutlery is often used as a low-cost, convenient option for business or personal use. These utensils are lightweight, easy to transport, and can be disposed of instead of cleaned and reused. Buying and using plastic utensils can create environmental issues, raising overall costs and negatively impacting natural resources and landfills.

Using disposable plastic cutlery at parties is often more convenient than washing everything.
Using disposable plastic cutlery at parties is often more convenient than washing everything.

Plastic cutlery is typically used by food service businesses and individuals to cut costs. Plastic utensils are relatively inexpensive to purchase, maintain, and store. This allows take-out and delivery restaurants to offer a low-cost option to customers. Often these customers toss out the plastic utensils without using them. Individuals often buy plastic utensils for home or travel use. Tossing used cutlery at a home potluck or campsite is more convenient than cleaning and storing it.

A downside of plastic cutlery is that it is not recyclable.
A downside of plastic cutlery is that it is not recyclable.

From an environmental viewpoint, plastic cutlery typically turns out to be an expensive option. The material these forks, spoons, and knives are made from is usually not the recyclable type of plastic. If these utensils are made from recyclable plastic, the recycling stations that accept them are often not conveniently located.

Disposal of plastic cutlery adds to the density of landfills and sometimes pollutes waterways. Petroleum-based products last for hundreds of years in airtight landfills. These materials also contain harmful components, such as Bisphenol-A or BPA, that can leech into food, soil, and ground water.

Another environmental drawback to plastic utensils is the large amount of resources and power required to create them. Most plastic is manufactured from petroleum, a non-renewable resource expensive to retrieve, refine, and transport. The processes used to turn petroleum into disposable plastics also create gases and chemical byproducts usually harmful to people and the environment.

If disposable plastic cutlery is required, one option is compostable cutlery. These utensils are composed of a material that is easily degradable, primarily specially-treated corn sugar. These utensils have their own pros and cons, since in most areas, recycling companies are not ready to process them. Individuals can add them to their composting bins. With enough moisture and air, compostable cutlery can easily degrade. If compostable utensils are not disposed of correctly, they will not degrade properly and will last as long as petroleum-based plastic utensils do.

An alternative to using plastic cutlery, especially for personal use, is to purchase inexpensive metal cutlery and reuse it. Many thrift stores have highly discounted cutlery for sale. Most households have automatic dishwashers, making cleaning relatively simple and quick.

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