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If you’re looking for disposable plates for wedding or event, or even looking for more sustainable tableware options for everyday use, you’ve definitely come across bamboo plates and palm leaf plates. Although they have a similar look, they couldn’t be more different in terms of eco-friendliness, durability, and versatility. The team at Chic Leaf has put together a comprehensive breakdown of the two to give you a better understanding before you make your decision. We’ll explain why we think Palm Leaf Plates are the better option. If you're looking to purchase palm leaf plates, Chic Leaf has a complete line in a variety of sizes and styles including palm leaf bowl and palm leaf trays.

How are Palm Leaf Plates Made?

Palm leaf plates are made from Areca Palm tree leaves that have fallen to the ground naturally on their own. The process is sustainable because it does not contribute to timbering or deforestation of any kind, and does not harm the living palm trees. These palm leaves would have otherwise been collected, burned, and disposed of, so repurposing them helps the environment manifold. The process of collecting leaves also encourages the growth of more palm trees. Areca palms look similar to bamboo because they’re thin and tall. They’re beautiful palms found in subtropical climates that can reach up to 20 feet in height.

making palm leaf plates

The collected Areca palm sheaths are sanitized with turmeric and water, and left to air dry. Once dry, artisans form the sheaths into plates and bowls using heated molds. They maximize the number of plates per leaf, and several can be made from just one sheath. Since the sheath is not reduced to powder or fibers, there is no need for harsh chemical binders. Zero chemicals or toxins are used to bind or coat the plates, unlike other eco-friendly plates.

fruit board display

Best of all, they are 100% compostable, biodegradable, and sustainable. This means the plates will always break down on their own, leaving virtually no waste behind. They’re all-natural and carbon-rich, and can easily be composted and transformed into nutritious soil. Not only is the product itself sustainable, so is the process behind it. No trees are cut down or harmed, no pollutants or toxins are released, and very little energy is needed to produce them.


How are Bamboo Plates Made?

Bamboo plates are made from bamboo, most commonly found in Asia, but also in parts of Africa and South America. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants, with hollow stems that can grow over 60 ft in height. It is critical to many eco-systems, serving as food and shelter for animals and is an essential material for people in developing countries.

bamboo trees

This is what makes the process behind bamboo plates concerning. Disposable bamboo plates are made from fully-matured bamboo trees that have been chopped down for commercial purposes. It takes a bamboo plant three to five years to mature, and only then can they be used for bamboo plates. From there, the trees are reduced to sawdust and bamboo fiber, then molded into plates, bowls, and cutlery, and binded with the chemical melamine. Bamboo itself is incredibly strong yet lightweight, which makes for a lightweight yet durable product that is naturally stain resistant.

 

Is Bamboo Safe?

There are two different ways bamboo plates are formed, with melamine or with other all-natural binders. The former is much more cost-effective and therefore more common, but it poses health risks according to the FDA. Melamine is a resin made from combining melatline and formaldehyde, which in and of itself is carcinogenic. This resin can leak into food if it’s acidic or hot, especially if it is microwaved. Extreme heat causes the release of these toxins, which puts people at risk of kidney stones, kidney failure, infection, and issues urinating.

There isn’t a standardized manufacturing process, which means one batch of bamboo plates could have more melamine than the next. Food contact expert, Pascale Lambert said, “There is a poor mastery of the manufacturing process. As the mixture of bamboo powder and melamine is not homogeneous, the latter remains partly free and thus escapes from the material.” Unlike palm leaf plates that are made with an actual leaf, bamboo is reduced to sawdust and then that is bound with resin to form plates.

Due to the rising concern of bamboo sawdust and its toxic resins, some countries in the EU like Austria have banned the sale of bamboo tableware. It’s advised that you do NOT microwave on bamboo plates, regardless if the company says it is safe to do so.

 

Palm Leaf Plates vs Bamboo Plates

We want to determine which plate is best for the environment, most durable for any kind of food, and can be used at any event whether it’s an upscale wedding or a backyard barbecue. We’ve broken down our comparison into 3 main categories: eco-friendliness, durability, and value.

Eco-Friendliness

Palm leaf plates are better for the environment than bamboo plates because both the product and the process are sustainable. While bamboo plates are made from a renewable resource, the process itself is not sustainable. Bamboo plates rely on the cutting down of bamboo, which contributes to deforestation and harms ecosystems, strips wildlife of their habitats, and denies local populations of a valuable resource. Additionally, the process of cutting down trees and reducing them to sawdust releases pollution and contributes to climate change.

Bamboo growth reduces up to 35% carbon dioxide in the air, produces an abundance of oxygen, and decreases water pollution by absorbing high amounts of nitrogen. Bamboo is essential in the fight against climate change, so cutting down bamboo does the reverse and irreparably damages the environment.

Some bamboo plate companies have misleading diagrams about how their plates are made, claiming to not cut any bamboo trees down in the process. This is simply not true, bamboo must be cut down to be used for bamboo plates, cutlery, straws, etc. It is also argued that using bamboo is ethical since it grows so quickly and typically replenishes itself. However, just because something is cost effective doesn't mean it’s ethical or environmentally friendly.

Palm leaf plates, on the other hand, use a renewable resource anda sustainable process. They are made from fallen palm leaves, not at all contributing to deforestation or harming local ecosystems and wildlife. Palm leaf plates use the leaves that have been shed naturally, leaves that would have otherwise been discarded or burned. The best part about palm leaf plates is that they break down in a fraction of the time it takes bamboo plates (about 8 months). You can also compost your palm leaf plates and turn them into nutrient-rich soil for your home and garden. In only a few short weeks, there is zero waste left of palm leaf plates. Palm leaf plates are a guilt-free, affordable alternative to single-use plastics.

Durability

Both palm leaf plates and bamboo plates are lightweight, and for the most part, both can handle messy, dense, greasy foods without breaking or splintering. What distinguishes palm plates however, is how it handles hot foods.

palm leaf durability

Palm leaf plates can not only withstand steaming hot foods being served on them, they can also be microwaved without wilting or losing their shape. Bamboo plates easily deform if microwaved, and bend with hot foods. Best of all, microwaving palm leaf plates won’t pose the risk of releasing harmful chemicals, unlike bamboo plates. Palm leaf plates are also more rigid and thick, which means you can easily use a steak knife and metal cutlery without cutting straight through the plate. 

Value

If you’re looking to use eco-friendly plates at an event or wedding, cost and style are two deciding factors. Palm leaf plates are much more affordable than bamboo plates, and this is thanks to the simple manufacturing process. Producing palm leaf plates costs less since they don’t have to chop down trees, which requires costly labor and machinery. Bamboo plate production is a long-winded process, from growing bamboo, waiting for them to mature, chopping them down, reducing it to sawdust, then combining with binders. For this reason, bamboo plates are often sold in smaller packs to keep prices lower. Palm leaf plates are great for weddings and events of all sizes because they are more affordable and sold in larger packs.

woman happy with hand out

As for style, everyone has their own preferences, but palm leaf plates have richer, more vibrant colors. They have a beautiful, natural, wood-like finish with unique markings thanks to the manner in which they’re individually hand pressed. Bamboo plates are simple and stylish as well, however appear more processed and have a factory manufactured look to them. The wooden finish of bamboo plates appears more synthetic, whereas palm leaf plates have an authentic, wood-grain finish. When you’re planning an up-scale event like a wedding, the last thing you want is your tablesettings to look cheap and mass-produced.

Palm leaf plates have the best overall value when it comes to cost, versatility, and style. Whether you’re going to use the plates for an elegant event or just a backyard barbecue, palm leaf plates have a better bang for their buck, will withstand any food you serve on them, hold up under immense heat, and look absolutely beautiful on any table setting.


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