Yes, paper plates are bad for the environment. They are easy to use at parties, picnics, or house gatherings, where all you need to worry about is disposing of the waste and not washing piles of used plates.
When you consider the relief that comes with using paper plates, not having to load up your dishwasher, or worried about breaking a plate, using paper plates seems like a very convenient alternative.
However, paper plates have now joined the heaps of wastes congesting the landfill.
And in this case, plastic waste may appear to be better managed than disposed of paper plates.
The reason being that most plastic wastes can be recycled into other secondary products, but because of stain and contamination, paper plates cannot be reused nor recycled.
This means that unless you plan to compost the waste, disposed paper plates are left on landfills to decompose slowly.
In other cases, the production of white paper plates requires the addition of bleaches or chemicals to wood pulps, which may pose a threat to the environment as the large quantity of chlorine used to produce bright white paper plates may cause minor or severe damage to living organisms when leaked into the soil, water bodies or even inhaled when exposed to the air.
Other times, paper plates are lined with aluminum foils to enhance their attractiveness and appeal to customers.
Due to the aluminum foil, it becomes difficult for the plate’s component to break down within the short while it takes other paper to decompose.
This then ends up causing piles of undecomposed litter in the environment.
Do paper plates decompose?
Yes, paper plates decompose; however, the breakdown is much slower than other paper products. This is due to the additives in the plates, which were added to reinforce the plates’ integrity and face value.
However, to save the landfills from heaps of undegraded paper plates, you can compost your paper plates or give them out to compost companies if you can’t do it yourself.
This is a better way to keep the environment free from paper plate litters since you can’t recycle stained paper plates.
Are paper plates biodegradable?
Yes and no! Yes, because paper degrades, of course. No, because several factors limit the degradation of some paper plates.
The means of disposal by the final consumer may also determine if paper plates are biodegradable and how long they will take.
Sometimes the paper plate waste is tied in plastic bags before disposing of; this creates an anaerobic condition that makes it difficult for the process of decomposition to occur.
When you weigh these options, you will realize that there are more reasons why some paper plates may not be biodegradable.
What can I use instead of paper plates?
Ceramics dishes and other types of reusable plates are the best alternatives to paper plates.
These types can be repeatedly used, washed, and stored for another day.
They are more eco-friendly because they do not constitute any pollution or waste whatsoever to the environment save the water and electricity used to keep them clean.
Moreover, these plates are more durable and can be used for as long as they remain in good condition.
Other cheaper alternatives could be to either ensure you buy the recyclable paper plate types, which may be more expensive, or go for the reusable plastic plates, easier to clean and take out for a picnic.
How long does a paper plate take to decompose?
Under the right conditions, paper plates take about six months or more to decompose, but several factors may either lessen the days or extend the degradation process.
But going by the New York city department, most paper plates decompose totally in five years.
Some of the factors that encourage the quick decomposition of paper plates are moisture and heat.
If disposed of in a well-aerated environment, too, paper plates tend to decompose faster than when disposed of otherwise.
Another critical factor is the thickness of the paper material used to make the plates.
The thicker the paper plate, the slower it takes to decompose, but if the plates are disposed in shredded or cut up forms, it hastens the decomposition rate.
As much as paper plates come very handy for use, there is the downside of not recycling them after every service.
If you are very conscious of your environment, you might want to continue using ceramic dishes instead of joining the paper plate users. Still, if you don’t mind composting now and then, paper plates won’t be a bad idea.