disposable dinnerware

Disposable Dinnerware Buying Guide

Learn more about commercial disposable dinnerware, including the differences between recyclable, compostable, plastic and paper single-use disposables.

From backyard Bar-B-Ques to high-end restaurants, we've all become well acquainted with the use and ease of disposable dinnerware and serveware. These single-use pieces are cost effective and easily transportable, making them the perfect solution for taking home leftovers, to-go sandwiches and meals, and more. In fact, you were probably using disposables at your school or home long before your commercial enterprise. Disposable cups are commonly used for coffee shops and cafes, while restaurants typically utilize clamshells for left over containers. Disposables are particularly important to fast casual establishments, which eliminated many of the costs associated with breakage and theft of traditional dinnerware.

But in addition to convenience, disposable plates, cups and silverware eliminated the use of publicly shared sippers and buckets. Disposable packing took a large step towards preventing foodborne illnesses and other diseases from spreading. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires businesses who lack the proper cleaning and sanitizing equipment to provide only "single-use kitchenware, single-service articles, and single-use articles for use by food employees and single-service articles for use by consumers." This applies to all businesses (not just those in foodservice)—if you notice your break room lacks the proper cleaning equipment for your shared utensils, don't be afraid to bring it up with management!

You recognize the need for disposables, but which one do you pick? Nowadays there are more options than ever for single-use dinnerware; from traditional paper and plastic, all the way to recycled post-consumer waste and corn products—are they all made the same? Are they right for your business? Answers to these questions and more in this Disposables Buying Guide.

Today's disposable dinnerware is made in a variety of materials to suit a wide range of budgets and preferences. Single-use disposables are a great way to reduce hours of messy cleanup during events or casual catering; not to mention, disposables are also the easiest way to prevent the spread of illnesses. Whether you're catering a high-end event, or you need a sturdy clamshell container for take away dinners, find out what kind of disposable is best for your business.

Plastic

Plastic

What it lacks in "green," plastic more than makes up for in its durability and aesthetics. Unlike its paper plate counterparts, plastic dinnerware won't betray your dishes by leaving unsightly grease stains behind. Plastic is also inherently leak-proof, making it easy to transport food from one place to another. The icing on the cake? Plastic comes in a variety of colors, adding a stylish component to your event. Keep in mind that the perks of plastic also come with a price; you'll find that plastic dinnerware is one of the more expensive disposable options.

Paper

Paper

Paper dinnerware might be the most common form of disposable dinnerware due to its low cost and versatility. Unlike plastic plates, many paper plates are microwave safe, making them easy to use when reheating food on the same plate. Generally paper plates are made of a thinner, flexible construction, which could pose problems for hearty dishes (and are prone to leak). In these instances, you might play it safe with a corrugated paper option, which includes multiple layers of paper to strengthen the structure and durability of a traditional paper plate.

Foam

Foam

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam is the cheapest and lightest disposable option on the market. Due to their inherent insulation (and price point), EPS has been a common material used for cups, clamshell take out containers and more. However, EPS has become a concern for many because it does not biodegrade for hundreds of years. Having become a major environmental issue for oceans (where it floats) and wildlife (where animals mistake the artificial material for food), more and more cities like New York are trying to ban the use of single-use foam items like cups, plates and more. Still, there is a growing market for clean EPS which can be recycled into new foam packaging or durable consumer goods. There are also companies develop post consumer EPS material as well.

Eco-Friendly Options

Eco-Friendly Options

If being green is important to you, you're in luck! Today's disposable dinnerware includes many recyclable and compostable options to pair the convenience of single-use dinnerware without its harmful environmental effects (like these options from Eco-Products). You'll find that many recyclable products are actually made from post-consumer recycled materials, which means that fewer "virgin" resources were required to make the product. Though recycled products help divert waste from our landfills, there is one caveat: not all cities recycle these products, so be sure to check your local community to find out what products they'll accept.

Compostable products are by far the newest form of disposable on the scene, and probably the most eco-friendly. Made of a variety of renewable resources like sugarcane, bamboo and more, compostable products once used will break down into organic material—soil—which can be used to improve crop yields and amend soils. Sound too good to be true? Maybe a little. Certain compostable cups are not always heat friendly, and have been known to melt when they come into contact with hot beverages (e.g. coffee) or even sitting inside of a hot car (we're looking at you Phoenix, AZ). Not only that, commercial composting is a relatively new endeavor and not all cities have a composting program in place, plus consumers are relatively new to the composting game as well, leading to confusion about what can or cannot be composted. Help divert some of the waste by educating consumers on compostable products by creating a form like this one.

Zero Waste Poster

When purchasing your disposable dinnerware, chances are there are a few factors that come into your buying decision. Of course price will always play a factor when it comes to purchases, but sometimes the lowest priced item isn't always the best for your needs. Intangible assets such as brand recognition, goodwill and other considerations will undoubtedly play into your purchase decision.

Purpose
Might seem like common sense, but the first thing to do before purchasing any disposable dinnerware and serveware is to determine its use. Are you a coffee shop who will go through hundreds of cups and sleeves a day? Or do you specialize in takeaway sandwiches and salads during the weekday lunch rush? Try serving to-go soups in sandwich containers (or don't, it'll make an awful mess). Whatever your specialty, you want to pick a container suited to your food (e.g., one that won't crush it in transport, or leak everywhere!).
Price
For most purchases, the power of our buying dollar dictates what products we choose to purchase. Disposables come in a wide range of costs depending on the type that you choose. The cheapest disposables may lack the durability and eco-friendly components of other options. But consider this, if you build your business upon the values of sustainability and giving back, those values must also translate to your disposables. Show your customers your commitment to the environment and other issues by investing a little more in your disposables program—trust us, your customers will notice.
Region
Some of you live in very hot places, where the high is regularly above 110° F. What happens in hot weather? Things melt. Before choosing your disposable product, consider your environment. For example, some compostable products made from corn (like these from Eco-Products) would not be suited to your operation due to the risk of the cup melting in hot cars. Though we applaud your initiative for being more environmentally friendly, ensure you find the right disposable product that's both eco-friendly AND won't put customers at risk.

Featured Disposables