Dishes for Thought: Food Serving cChoices for Events
We would never use paper plates for our everyday meals at home, but somehow it became the norm to uses single-use, disposable dishes at events. If you are going to run a Green Event, this is a major source of waste that can be avoided. All it takes is a little pre-planning.
Once you know your options, it is easier to choose a suitable replacement for disposable dishes.
1) Reusable dishes: They can work well at small events as well as large -- the key is in the planning. Many smaller event venues such as community halls and churches have a set of reusable dishes that can be rented along with the building. Washing dishes is an excellent place to put volunteers to work and to socialize.
Larger festivals can still go reusable if they choose. The Edmonton Folk Festival is a great example. They made the investment to buy 5,000 washable plastic plates. Patrons pay a deposit when they buy food on the plates. They redeem their plates at collection stations to get their deposit back. The program has been very successful. It was implemented in 1995 and is still in place.
People will try to use the argument that the use of water to wash dishes at an event makes them no better than disposables. Keep in mind that water, and plenty of other resources, go into making disposable items too -- we just don't see it. At least durable items can be used many times -- making full use of the energy that went into creating them.
2) Recyclable dishes: There is the potential to recycle single-use plastic items as well. Plastic beer cups, food plates and cutlery could all be recycled in theory. One would need to find a recycler willing and able to take them, and find a way to have them clean enough to be recycled. If both washing and recycling was needed, this would not make it the most environmentally friendly option.
Beverage containers also fit well in this category. Many events will serve beverage in individual serving containers, and collect them to redeem their deposits at SARCAN. Just make sure to keep garbage out of the bottle collection!
3) Compostable dishes: As they only break down in municipal-scale compost facilities, this can be a convenient option if you have a place to take the materials. Since you can collect compostable dishes along with unfinished food, it eliminates the need for separating the two, or for washing the items. There are almost as many options out there for compostable serving ware as there are plants. You can get plates made from corn starch, potato starch, sugar cane, pressed leaves, or paper. For more information on compostable dishes at events, see our article "What if you could compost your plate?"
Given that everything you will need (plates, cups, bowl-plates and cutlery) is available in any one of the above three categories, there is no excuse not to do it!