Focus on the Impact, Not the Instant

The other day, a commercial caught my attention where there was a group of about 5 women hanging out in the backyard, eating dinner, drinking wine, and gossiping about something. As the camera focused on the food, you could see it was on paper plates, and as the spot faded out, the tagline "Focus on the Drama, Not the Dishes" appeared.

Paper and foam plates are obviously already one of my pet peeves, but this tagline made me even more mad. It doesn't even matter which brand produced this commercial, because they're all promoting unnecessary waste.

Why disposable dinnerware shouldn't be your at-home default.

In the right instances, I can understand a bigger need to choose convenience over sustainability. If you're hosting a huge party and don't have extra help or a kitchen staff on hand, then it's understandable to go for disposable plates. But even then, you can make a greener choice by choosing plates/bowls/silverware made of recycled paper or plastic, or dinnerware made of bamboo or compostable material. Whole Foods uses this composite cardboard that can be composted. A few years ago when P and I hosted a Saints party, I went with Susty Party's compostable plates and bowls. (The napkins are made of recycled paper and the forks and knives are recycled and recyclable plastic.)

And, this post isn't about restaurants providing to-go orders or containers. No, this is about the scenarios like the ones in that commercial. A group of five or six women gathered at someone's house. A family sitting down together for dinner. These are not the times for paper plates.

While it may seem so easy and convenient, remember the lasting impact that disposable plates have on the environment. Foam, especially, never biodegrades. So your alternative to washing a few extra dishes actually lives on forever.

It's much more sustainable, and cost-effective, to invest in reusable dinnerware that you love. And it doesn't have to be fancy china or super heavy dinnerware. Melamine is a popular alternative to ceramic, especially for children and outdoor dining, because it's lightweight and unbreakable. However, try to avoid microwaving, baking or running melamine through the dishwasher, because heat can cause some of the chemicals to leach out into your food.

And yes, they do make BPA-free melamine.

When you invest in a set of reusable plates and cups for home, you can pick ones that mirror your home's style and your personality. My future in-laws keep the striped plates above for when we have backyard cookouts, and I love how much use we've gotten out of them in the past couple years.

The plate in the title image is also melamine, and works super well for the lake house. Instead of packing my lunch in a paper towel or on a disposable plate, I fixed it on the plate and carried it out to the water.

 Backyard grillin' at the lake house, using regular plates, especially since there were only four of us.

 Thanksgiving gumbo at the lake house last year.

Taco night at home, and I wouldn't even fathom using disposable plates to eat in the dining room (or let's be real, in the living room at the coffee table).

And what about at work? I purchased a sale bowl and plate to keep at my desk, and they have served to eliminate a lot of single use potential from my day. One afternoon recently, I stopped by our company lunch hall to grab a salad, but instead of using a clamshell container, I just brought my own bowl.

Part of my workplace reusable arsenal.

Each year, my company also hosts a (very delicious) cookoff. My first year was spaghetti, and yes, all the styrofoam bothered me. Since I haven't worked yet worked out a great solution that everyone else would agree to, I at least changed my own impact for the next year. I brought my own sample-size cup (and if you look in the Saints party photo, you might see this exact bowl and its three siblings!) and my fork, and saved about eight styrofoam cups from being used. 

And yes, jambalaya might be the least Instagrammable food there is. I'm sorry. It tasted good though!

Maybe a gratuitous photo of poké bowls, but I'm not sorry. I'm craving some poké so this will have to do for now. The photo on the left is legit poké from Kailua, Hawaii, but is unfortunately in a foam cup, with disposable chopsticks. About a year after our vacation, I made my own version (after nearly having a heart attack at the cost of sashimi at Whole Foods), and it was pretty damn tasty. And this time, in a reusable bowl!

Loved the use of reusable dinnerware at an engagement party earlier this year. And the food was delicious. Excuse the paper napkin! This was a large party, and there was kitchen help for the evening to help with the dishes.

A weekend in New Orleans with fresh baked cookies on this adorable shaped plate.

Not all airport food options are sustainable, but one of the United lounges in the Houston airport provided simple reusable dinnerware for my breakfast during a layover last year. Gimme all the scones.

So, when you're at home, or hosting a small gathering, don't default to using disposable dinnerware. Remember the impact all that waste has on our environment, and make the sustainable choice! Choose reusable.

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