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Planning a party or big event like a wedding is no easy task; there are so many details, decorations, and logistics to nail down. And if you’re hosting an important event more than likely you’re going to serve food. On top of hiring a caterer and planning out the number of servings you’ll need, you’ve also got to worry about tableware. The plates and utensils you choose for your party or event can take your event from a simple backyard barbecue to a sophisticated dinner party.

Tableware is not just another item on your event planning checklist. You want tableware to hold up to the challenge of balancing appetizers, main courses, desserts, and look great while doing it. Most catered food is heavy and messy, and requires durable, heavy-duty plates and cutlery. Unlike centerpieces and decorations that can be stored and used for another event, disposable plates are exclusively single use.

wedding caterers making food

Whether you’re planning an entirely eco-friendly event, or picking out a few sustainable options, tableware should be something you consider. If you choose only one thing to make sustainable at your event or wedding, let it be the tableware.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The main challenge that tableware poses is its disposal. Most of us don’t think twice about what happens to disposable plates and utensils after we’ve thrown them in the trash. Events are designed for guests to attend, enjoy themselves and their meals, then leave without worrying about the waste left behind. Out of sight, out of mind. The fact of the matter is that parties and weddings generate a bunch of waste. The average wedding produces about 400-600 pounds of waste.

Elisabeth Kramer, a wedding coordinator out of Oregon said, “After the guests have left and the couple’s gone home, I and the reception vendors spend at least an hour cleaning up. A typical wedding takes me a half-dozen industrial-sized trash bags. I stuff each one with used napkins, discarded favors, and soggy food.”

Plastic utensils are amongst the most wasteful single-use plastic items. 40 billion plastic utensils are wasted every year just in the United States. You might think setting up a recycling bin at your party could help mediate the waste, but even if dirty utensils make it in the recycling bin, it likely won’t be recycled anyways. They’re too small and too contaminated for recycling plants to bother with.

Plastic tableware contributes to greenhouse gas effects from the moment it’s produced to the moment it gets dumped in a landfill. A lot of energy and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere during their production and transportation, which accelerates climate change.

Chemicals like vinyl chloride and benzene are released when they are produced, and have been proven to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and neurotoxic (toxic to the nervous system). If food is microwaved or served at too high of a temperature on plastic plates and containers, the toxins dioxin, Biphenyl A, and Phthalates--fancy names for toxic chemicals that make plastic soft--are released and then consumed by us.

The billions of plastic tableware pieces that end up in landfills every year do not decompose. They will exist for hundreds of years, long after we’re gone. What does end up happening though, is they break up into smaller pieces known as microplastics. These tiny, toxic particles are dangerous to the environment, to wildlife, and to us.

Long story short, plastic is overtaking our oceans and devastating our environment. Of all plastics produced, though, single-use plastics are the most wasteful and senseless. Unfortunately, large gatherings like parties and weddings have the tendency to choose plastic tableware either out of convenience or habit.

There are so many sustainable tableware options available to choose from for your next party, event, or wedding. The sustainability and eco-friendliness of these plates, while still better than plastic, have different levels of eco-friendliness.  You may be surprised at how attractive and elegant the styles they come in are. Maria Casey, founder of BUHO, a platform that highlights sustainable home items, said, “You don’t have to sacrifice style when it comes to eco-entertaining.”

When weighing your options for sustainable plates, bowls, and trays for your next party or event, there’s a lot to consider so we've put together a list of the top 5 types of eco-friendly plates to make your job much easier. We've started with number and work our way down to the #1 most eco-friendly plates.

 

1. Palm Leaf Plates

Palm leaf plates are our overall top choice for eco-friendly plates and perfect for those having a green wedding. Palm leaf tableware is made from palm leaves. Leaves that have already fallen are collected, not contributing to timbering or deforestation. Then, the leaves are rinsed with water and turmeric to sanitize them, and left to air dry. Once dry, the leaves are shaped into plates, bowls, and cutlery using heated molds. Several plates can be made from just one leaf.

leaf plates on dinner table

Palm leaf plates are great for any event because they can be played up or down. They have a natural wood-grain finish that makes for an upscale look. The plates are all unique with different patterns and shades. Palm leaf plates manage to be both lightweight yet incredibly sturdy. They can easily withstand hot foods, microwaves, and even steak knives. Zero chemicals, binders, or toxins are used to make them, and they are 100% compostable, biodegradable, and sustainable.

If you are looking for the perfect palm leaf plates, look no further. Chic Leaf offers the most diverse selection of disposable, biodegradable plates, bowls, and platters in many different sizes. Depending on the size of your event, they offer packs of up to 50 plates. As an added bonus, they offer free shipping on all their products.

If you’re shying away from eco-friendly plates because of their flimsiness or eccentric looks, then Chic Leaf is for you. Their leaves are made from beautiful Areca Palm Leaves. The look and feel of their plates is not cheap or like styrofoam, instead they have a beautiful wooden appearance with a soft texture. Their plates are very sturdy and can handle any amount of food you pile on them. Their plates come in many different shapes, and form the most elegant and attractive table setting for any party or event. Their serving trays are unique and perfect for serving appetizers or finger foods on.

Unlike other eco-friendly companies, Chic Leaf is completely transparent about the process behind making their plates. Chic Leaf makes use of leaves that have fallen on their own, meaning they do not have to grow or chop down trees. Thanks to this, they do not contribute to timbering, greenhouse gases, or climate change. Unlike bamboo where fibers have to be extracted through a strenuous process, creating pollution along the way, palm leaves are ready to be shaped and molded after being collected and sanitized. They are sustainable, biodegradable, and affordable, all with an elegant touch perfect for any wedding, event, or party.

 

2. Paper Plates

 I know what you’re thinking, paper plates should not be on an eco-friendly list. However, compared to foam and plastic, paper is fairly eco-friendly. Paper plates decompose in about five years, which is longer than other biodegradable options, but still much shorter than the hundreds of years it takes Styrofoam and plastic. There are also plenty of recycled paper options, which don’t contribute to deforestation and don't use as much energy to make.

tree cut down

Paper plates come in every shape, color, and size imaginable. You can choose from high-end, decorative paper plates for a wedding, or neon colored paper plates for a kid’s birthday party. Paper plates are also much cheaper if you’re planning a casual, but large, event. Unlike other eco-friendly options, most paper plates do not need to be ordered online and can easily be bought at a store.

Paper plates are not very sturdy and are usually too thin to handle greasy, dense foods leaving the risk of spills, making messes, and staining clothes. If microwaved or topped with hot foods, paper plates will wilt and become weak. They’re thin which makes them cheap to buy and transport, but your guests might end up having to use double or triple plates to withstand heavy foods. If you leave paper plates sitting for too long, food will absorb into the plates and make them even flimsier. 

Paper plates, including the recycled variety, are sometimes bleached to make them bright white. The chlorine compounds used are linked to damage in immune and reproductive systems, on top of being carcinogenic. Recycling paper plates is also not as simple as it seems. If the plate has any grease or food on it, it cannot be recycled. Finally, on top of all that, paper plates are prone to looking tacky, which is the last thing you want for an event you’ve worked so hard on.

  

3. Birchwood Plates

Plates made from birchwood are 100% compostable, and can break down in as quick as 80 days. While cutting down trees to make single-use plates seems counterproductive, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies that harvesting and planting birchwood is sustainable.

Birchwood plates are one of the most elegant options for eco-friendly plates. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the common theme is their beautiful wooden coloring. Each plate is unique with a different wood pattern, and looks lovely for upscale events. Unlike bamboo, wood can be easily shaped and cut without chemicals or harmful binders. They are also much smoother and softer than other plates for this same reason.

Since the birchwood must be food-friendly, there are no waxes or polishes. This can lead to the plate absorbing a good amount of liquid, especially over long periods of time. Birchwood plates are not good for hot foods and are not microwave safe. In high heat, the wood may release oils into the food. The plates are thin and will wilt or become soggy with high heat. Additionally, because they’re wooden, they’re flammable. All in all, they aren’t the most durable eco-friendly plates.

No matter what certification you get or how you try to spin it, cutting down trees for single-use tableware is not good for the environment. Deforestation leaves a huge carbon footprint, and replanting more trees does not undo the damage.

If you are looking for uniform tableware and identical table settings, birchwood plates are not for you. The patterns and colors of the plates vary from batch to batch. While the plates themselves are smooth and even, the edges may be slightly rough. Wooden utensils are said to be strong enough to cut through steaks, but that raises concerns of splintering.

 

4. Sugarcane Plates

Sugarcane plates sound delicious, don’t they? Although they aren’t sweet, they’re made from the sugarcane plant, a renewable, reclaimed resource. Sugarcane plates are 100% biodegradable and can break down in as quickly as 90 days. They are made from bagasse, the durable, fibrous part of the sugarcane plant. Bagasse is what remains after the sweet juice is extracted from sugarcane stalks, and would otherwise be discarded. The bagasse becomes pulp, and after impurities are removed it is mixed with reagents for oil and water resistance. They are then molded in machines into nearly every shape and size of plate.

Sugarcane plates are entirely grease resistant, so your guests will never have to worry about greasy food leaking through a thin, flimsy plate. They are also dense and cut resistant, so they are certainly suitable for heavy, thick foods like steak. These plates are plain white and look and feel similar to heavy-duty paper plates, so if you’re shopping for a look alike, sugarcane plates are for you. Unlike bamboo plates, these are often molded to include compartments, which is useful for catering and serving food.

Part of what makes sugarcane plates so heavy-duty and grease resistant is also what makes them slightly dangerous. PFAS (Per-polyfluoroalkyl substance) are added to give the plates water and oil resistance. Over time, PFAS can accumulate in the body and the environment, interfering with the body’s natural hormones and immune system. Not much is known about long-term exposure and consumption of PFAS.

Although most companies promise their sugarcane plates are microwave safe, freezer safe, and hot food friendly, they do not hold up well with hot foods. Additionally, sugarcane plates become brittle in the freezer and won’t hold up for long.

 

5. Disposable Bamboo Plates

Plates made out of bamboo have gained popularity in recent years. The plates look similar to wood, but do not splinter and are very durable. The bamboo plants are not harmed in the process of collecting the sheath, which is what the plates are made out of. Once a bamboo plant has matured, the protective sheath falls off. The sheath would otherwise biodegrade. Companies then collect that sheath, sanitize it, laminated, then molded and bonded.

bamboo forest

Bamboo is biodegradable, which means they are much more friendly to the environment than plastic and Styrofoam. Styrofoam can take up to 900 years to degrade, whereas even the thickest of bamboo takes only a few months. Bamboo plants grow abundantly and produce more oxygen than other plants, they even absorb carbon dioxide helping the effects of greenhouse gasses.

As for the plates themselves, they are lightweight yet heavy-duty. They can handle any amount of messy, dense catered foods all without breaking or splintering. Bamboo plates can spice up your event by adding a touch of nature to your table settings. They look unique and beautiful up against bright colored foods and table cloths. Their texture is smooth, but the pattern and details are more wood-like.

Bamboo plates are a great alternative to single-use plates that are harmful to the environment. Disposable bamboo tableware comes in all shapes and sizes, including bowls, utensils, platters, and chopsticks. Bamboo plates can be dressed up or down, and are appropriate for any event, casual or elegant.

However, shaping and forming bamboo sheaths is much more difficult than it may seem. Anne Lafourcade, an environmental health engineer, said, “bamboo is used in the form of fibers or powder, needing to be agglomerated,” meaning that during the drawn-out process, pollution is released into the environment.

As a consumer, you must pay close attention to the company that you’re purchasing bamboo tableware from. Not all companies have a sustainable, chemical-free process. Some companies have taken over natural landscapes to grow massive amounts of bamboo for a high turn-around. This affects the wildlife that rely on bamboo forests to survive. China is the world’s primary source for bamboo, but their inadequate labor standards are often unethical.

Other companies may use toxic binders or lacquer coatings. Melamine-formaldehyde resin is sometimes used to bind bamboo tableware. This gives the plate a nice, soft texture without cracks. This resin in high quantities can release into the food and be toxic to kidneys. Since there’s not a standardized manufacturing process, one batch of bamboo plates may have more melamine than the next. Although bamboo tableware companies often boast their plates can be microwaved and withstand high heat, if those plates contain high amounts of melamine, it could release formaldehyde (a carcinogen) into your food.

  

Final Thoughts

When you’re planning a party, event, or wedding, you’ve got so many things to worry about and the last thing you want weighing on your conscience is how much waste you’ve generated. Single-use plastics are not only dangerous to the environment and pose serious health hazards to us, they are also tacky and outdated.

eco wedding plates

 Eco-friendly, sustainable tableware is the future of party-planning. On top of biodegrading in a fraction of the time it takes plastic to break up into harmful microplastics, eco-friendly plates also just look fantastic.

Every eco-friendly option has its downfalls, however. It’s important to do your research on the company before making a purchase. Just because a product is sustainable, that does not mean the production of that product is. In the attempt to make single-use plastic alternatives that are just as functional, new problems have arisen.

Chic Leaf is at the top of our list because they deliver 100% compostable plates, biodegradable, and sustainable plates all while remaining completely transparent about the materials and processes they use. They don’t use any dyes like paper plates, chemicals like sugarcane plates, or glues like bamboo plates. They don’t use any dyes like paper plates, chemicals like sugarcane plates, or glues like bamboo plates. They’re proven to be committed to reducing the disastrous effects of single-use plastics, and offer a viable, affordable alternative.


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