General Question

whitecarnations's avatar

Ecologists: What is statistically proven to help out the environment more? Paper plates, or washing ceramics?

Asked by whitecarnations (1635 points ) February 25th, 2012

What would your guess be if you can’t find statistics?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

18 Answers

marinelife's avatar

The bottom lines from a lengthy discussion of the variables and complexities:

“In most cases the reusable plates and the dishwasher will win over disposables. Disposables do have their place; at the company picnic, or any other event that is far removed from modern plumbing. Ultimately trust that little green voice inside your head that tells you that disposable plates are the wrong choice for the office meeting. If other people don’t share your values and are too lazy to load their plate into the dishwasher, perhaps the committed few can organize and volunteer for dish patrol.”

The Tree Hugger

rooeytoo's avatar

I would think washing ceramic and developing a viable useage for the gray water which is now flooding sewerage systems when it could be watering the backyard veggie garden and lawn. Of course that wouldn’t work so well in a high rise apartment but…....

Lightlyseared's avatar

Assuming you don’t recycle your paper plates and they go straight to land fill then using a ton of paper plates will remove at least a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere…

laureth's avatar

Not all places on earth are the same as all other places. The results will vary based on your location, and if you have drought conditions, plenty of water, etc.

YARNLADY's avatar

Usually re-usable plates are better. Most people don’t realize they can be cleaned by methods that don’t use water.

jaytkay's avatar

Assuming you don’t recycle your paper plates and they go straight to land fill then using a ton of paper plates will remove at least a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere…

There is a kernel of truth in the statement, paper plates contain some carbon, so yes, they do remove a little carbon from the atmosphere.

However…

1) Paper plates are not made of CO2

2) The trees cut down to make the paper plates were absorbing CO2 when they were alive

3) Manufacturing and transporting paper plates burns fuel, which sends CO2 into the atmosphere

Coloma's avatar

Depends.
Looks like California might be going into a drought year and water is precious.
In the case of water shortage paper plates are simply leftover pulp byproducts of the thousands of trees cut down for building and construction purpose, just like leather is a byproduct of the never to go away meat industry. These byproducts are put to use and not using them will make no difference to the long gone trees and cattle from which they came.

If it comes to conserving water then I think paper plates are the better choice.
I use paper plates for feeding my two cats every morning.
Washing and disinfecting ceramic bowls is more work and small paper plates are more hygenic IMO.
I also use paper plates for non-messy snacks and reuse them, often for the cats.

As I always say, pick your poison, there’s plenty of it. I use paper plates but I do plenty of other things that benefit the environment, good enough.

YARNLADY's avatar

I may be way off base here, but I actually clean off my paper plates and reuse them whenever possible.

When I lived in a water restricted area, we kept a wash basin with several inches of clean, sandbox type sand in it, and simply scrubbed the plates with sand, then wiped with a damp cloth most of the time. I only washed them in water once a week or less.

Coloma's avatar

@YARNLADY Yep, me too. If I have a sandwich, crackers, a slice of cheese, apple, anything that is not sloppy, I wipe them off and reuse them later too.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

I don’t use very much paper; I hate it. I like using dishes and cloth napkins.

lemming's avatar

I imagine re-usable plates, they can last years and are usually made from natural materials, right? And besides, who want’s to eat their dinner off a paper plate??

Lightlyseared's avatar

@jaytkay What exactly do you think paper plates are made of? They made of paper! Paper is made from trees! And trees are made from CO2!

Trees are mainly made of carbon atoms, oxygen atoms and hydrogen atoms. A metric ton of tree requires the tree to remove a metric ton of CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into tree.

Now it is true that tree constantly remove co2 from the atmosphere when they are alive but they also add it back through respiration. Over the course of a year a mature tree is almost perfectly carbon neutral – all the co2 they absorbed they return to the atmosphere. They only time trees (and when I say tree you can take that to mean all vegetation) take more co2 out of the atmosphere that they return is when they are actively growing and turning co2 into plant. The idea that trees are reprocessing all our exhaled CO2 is a myth it’s actually phytoplankton that do most of the work.

Bent's avatar

I don’t know statistics but I would think washing ceramics would be better, particularly if washing by hand with biodegradable detergent, and re-using the waste water somehow (even if it’s only to flush the toilet with).

jaytkay's avatar

@Lightlyseared They only time trees (and when I say tree you can take that to mean all vegetation) take more co2 out of the atmosphere that they return is when they are actively growing and turning co2 into plant

Correct. And paper plates are not actively growing trees. Seriously.

And paper is not 100% carbon.

And you are still ignoring the carbon emissions from manufacturing and transporting paper.

And nobody said “trees are reprocessing all our exhaled CO2”.

laureth's avatar

You might even consider composting the paper plate when you’re done with it.

Bent's avatar

laureth paper plates are often plastic-coated; those that are, cannot be composted or recycled.

mattbrowne's avatar

Modern dishwashers are being optimized year after year after year. They do win.

laureth's avatar

@Bent – True, but I was hoping people would take that into account when deciding whether or not to throw it in the compost. Many paper plates are not plastic-coated and would work.

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