The Case Against Paper Plates

disposable paper cupsAround the time we were married, my husband heard a talk about paper plates leading to a “disposable society.” This made an impression. I think the speaker meant that owning objects that we value enough to care for on a daily basis, is part of building a home and family. I see his point, although I don’t believe we should read every personal decision into some kind of moral failing.

Washing dishes takes time. The more people you are serving, and the more courses you cook, the more the dishes accumulate. Sometimes the temptation to use disposable dishes—paper is often a misnomer since plastic predominates—is strong. I have one friend who says that it’s a matter of quality of life. When she has her children and grandchildren visiting, she wants to spend her time with them and not in the kitchen washing dishes.

On the other hand, once you get used to having them in the house disposables can be a hard habit to break. Nowadays we use a dishwasher that cuts some, but not all, of the time spent washing.

After a few days of using disposables during the mourning period for my father’s death, my husband asked to go back to china. When we used disposable plates during those few days, there are a few things I found irritating about them.

  • The extra garbage. We had to take out garbage at least one extra time each day.
  • The taste. Disposable plates and cups do change the flavor of the food. They have a distinctive, chemical smell as well. And that’s without going into the chemicals that you ingest.
  • The flimsiness. Disposable cups spill, plates break or tip, forks crack. I found myself throwing things away before they were used even once.
  • The price. Disposables cost. If you buy the cheap ones, they are ugly and flimsy. If you invest in better quality, you are pouring more money down the drain. Sometimes disposables are so pretty that you feel like washing them, which extends their life. I was with a friend who was buying fancy disposables for the holiday. I pointed out (it was a good friend Smile) that a basic service for 6 would cost less than she paid for the disposables.
  • The waste. It just feels wrong to drink some water from a cup and then throw the cup into the garbage.
  • The storage. If you have china, you place them on your shelves. If you have disposables as well, you need a place for them and I found that they take up a lot of room. You also have to stay on top of things to make sure you don’t run out of any particular item, and you may need an extra trip to the store. If you care that your disposables match perfectly, you end up wasting more.
  • The environment. Plastic comes from petroleum, paper from trees. Disposable goods must be manufactured, transported and disposed off, all of which creates pollution.
  • While washing dishes requires soap and water, there are efficient methods. Here are tips for cutting back on the number of dishes you need to wash. You can also choose disposables for the main course but not for dessert, or vice versa.

    Like most cooking tasks, it’s a matter of commitment. My husband is determined that we don’t use disposables, and offered to do most of the washing up even in those pre-dishwasher days.

    Don’t forget to check out the latest edition of the Kosher Cooking Carnival over at Leora’s.

    You may also enjoy:

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    Photo: bark


    1. We use a lot of paper goods during Pesach, and it is such a relief to go back to real plates after the holiday. Like you said, the trash is awful, and the environment suffers. And the darn things leak, even the stronger ones.

      I had the great pleasure of serving a few meals on my mother’s Pesach china – it was a delight to wash those dishes, because it made me feel a connection to her.

      FYI, there is a solution to washing dishes for the wealthy. It’s called dishwashers. Then there’s also those who hire maids…

      Thanks for the link to KCC.

    2. I sent this to my DH who loves paper plates but I think they affect the taste of things. Of course, he does wash most of our dishes; but I make most of our food.

    3. mommymommymommy says

      I rarely use paper plates or cups. When my twins were little and my husband was never home, it was just easier to use disposibles. In order to save money, we do without the paper goods.

    4. I think that disposables have their place. If I have more guests than the number of dishes I have or can fit into the dishwasher, I use disposable. For Pesach, I use disposables because my husband doesn’t allow kashering the dishwasher, and I get terrible back aches from washing dishes (our sink is set about 6 inches back from the edge of the counter so you really have to lean over to wash dishes.) Most of the time, I prefer real dishes though.

      • Leah, would a stool help when you use the sink? There are definitely times when disposables are the best option.

    5. Nathalie says

      We use disposables on outings (and even then, not always), the day(s) before pesach when the kitchen is at the half/half stage, and sometimes for serving the first course or the desert on shabbat (usually shabbat lunch when we’ve already used the china in the evening – I hate washing up on shabbat).
      DH also takes one fork and one knife to work each day with his lunch, although we have started using cheap plastic kitchenware he brings back instead.
      We don’t have a dishwasher, but I do have a very nice DH who helps…
      We do use disposable when we have many many guests… we’re not perfect yet.
      I avoid them mainly because of the price , flimsiness and waste. I never experienced a change of taste- I think it has to do more with perception: when you “see” cheap and flimsy- you taste it too.

    6. You make excellent points. My preference for disposables is because I don’t want to be doing dishes on Shabbat or Yom Tov.
      But you are so right about disposables ultimately costing more and taking up more space on the shelves. What I really need is someone else to do the washing up 🙂

    7. We only use disposable paper and plastic during the week, and on Shabbos for Shalosh Seudos.
      This is due for several reasons:

      1. Maybe in the US this is different, but I don’t taste any difference in the food. (except styrofoam, but we never get styrofoam, only paper and plastic. styrofoam cups are for shabbos.)

      2. We don’t have a dishwasher (after Shabbos we take turns – I personally do not have energy to do dishes during the week.) This is probably what makes the difference. You have to spend on water and soap – it takes more water and soap to wash dishes in the dishwasher than by hand. (We first soak, then scrub all at once, then rinse them all.)

      3. My mother has worked the night shift since before we were babies. It’s too stressful to her to have to wash a dish every time she uses it when she comes home, and she likes the house to be as nice looking as possible.

      4. For my family, it’s less stressful to spend 50c a meal on disposables for the whole family and be able to dump it in the garbage, than to have to figure out who is going to wash them. If we were used to it from a young age, perhaps it wouldn’t seem like such a burden.

      5. If you buy in bulk, you can get decent quality that costs less. We once got 400 spoons at a time – less than 1c each. If you twist a plastic spoon, it will break – so don’t twist the plastic spoons!

      6. There’s a question if people use disposable pans, if they have to tovel it. Just throwing that out there for people to be aware of the halacha question.

      • Tzipora, in my ideal world no one would use disposable anything. Of course, none of us lives in the ideal world.

        For the record, dishwashers are getting more efficient and compete with hand-washing as far as water usage.

    8. @Hannah: we’ll just have to hope DH read the article but not the comments 🙂
      As to taste: one of things that “tastes” different to me has to do with texture. I find that if food has sauce/pan juices/marinade, it just feels less good. It sort of gets absorbed by the paper.
      I am not in any way holier than though and do use paper paltes sometimes. I have to admit that when I do, I enjoy buying something nice–either at Target or at a discount store. When I have large gatherings, we use paper plates and real silverware. For the parties associated with my daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah (that is a dinner at our home for 40-50 out of towners the night before and a party for her friends only), we will use paper and I bought plastic “silverware” that looks like metal @ Costco. [the actual bat mitzvah meal will be catered and served on china!]. And sometimes when we have company, I’ll serve dessert on paper plates as a way of treating DH, the dishwasher.

    9. Great post, and I agree with all of your points. Mostly the wastefulness bothers me. I find that if I buy them, we use them because it’s just so easy. But if I just don’t bring paper goods into the house, we have no choice but to use (and wash) real dishes. I recently bought each of my kids a milchig and fleishig hard plastic (non disposable) cup in a different color. This way we avoid using plastic cups and have no confusion over which is whose.

    10. In theory, I’m with you 100%. I really dislike using paper for the waste, the quality (even the nicer ones get soggy with sauces), the expense, etc.

      However, with two little ones and a husband who is rarely home, I find that I use disposable plates (and sometime cups) more than I otherwise would. Also, since we’re moving soon, it’s again with the disposables, since most of my free time is spent packing. I still feel guilty, though. I’d prefer to use real plates.

      Thanks for the tips on greater efficiency in using and washing dishes. I was pleased to see that I’m already doing most of them. Score!

    11. I don’t like using disposables either. My daughter takes disposable spoons to school for her yoghurt at lunch time, and brings it home every day to wash. I figure that if it gets accidentally tossed with the yoghurt pot, I’d rather she toss a plastic one than a real one.

      I sometimes use small plastic bowls for dessert, or if we have lots of guests, and the table is long, I don’t have enough small real bowls to have humous and salads the length of the table. If a plastic cup is used for water, it gets rinsed and reused.

      I hate plastic forks – the tines always break.


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