disposable dinnerware

Disposable Dinnerware Buying Guide

Learn about commercial disposable dinnerware, including the pros and cons of recyclable, compostable, plastic and paper single-use disposables.

Disposable dinnerware is not only convenient but also the most sanitary option. If consumers weren’t aware of that before 2020, they definitely are now. For those of us in foodservice, we had to stock up on disposable dinnerware, and make smart choices about the types of disposables to use.

It’s clear that disposable dinnerware isn’t just for backyard barbeques and catering settings anymore. Every foodservice establishment has to consider their approach to disposable dinnerware, for both take-out orders and dine-in.

So which type is best for your establishment? Plastic disposables are sturdy, but not so eco-friendly. And is compostable better than recyclable? Or are they equally good for the environment? Our buying guide gives you the rundown on all of these considerations and more.

Types of Disposables

Disposable dinnerware can be made out of so many different materials. Whether you need utensil sets for catering settings or clamshell containers for take-out orders, find out what kind of disposables are best for your business.



Plastic take out containers are strong and protective. Clear or colorful disposables are also a nice option you only get with plastic, and disposable plastic containers with lids are ideal for soups. Plastic is also inherently leak-proof, making it perfect to transport a variety of foods. But because plastic containers hold in moisture so well, they can make foods like fries or hamburger buns soggy. They’re also the least environmentally friendly option. There are, however, disposable take out containers made from recycled plastic, and compostable PLA options.



PLA, or polylactic acid, is a synthetic form of bioplastic. It’s made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane. PLA disposables function the same as plastic, but are much more environmentally friendly.



Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam is the cheapest and lightest disposable option on the market. Between its low price point and inherent insulation, EPS has been a go-to for cups, clamshell take-out containers and other disposables for years. However, EPS does not easily biodegrade. Plus, having become a major environmental issue for oceans (where it floats) and wilderness (where animals mistake the artificial material for food), using single-use foam items like cups and plates in restaurants has been banned in many cities. However, there is a growing market for clean EPS, which can be recycled into new foam packaging or durable consumer goods. There are also companies developing post-consumer EPS, providing another environmentally friendly foam option.

Recyclable and biodegradable

Recyclable and biodegradable

As environmentally friendly options become more and more popular, there are so many new innovative disposables coming onto the market. Disposable dinnerware can be made out of natural materials such as reclaimed sugarcane fibers, a “waste product” in sugar processing that’s thrown out otherwise. Bamboo and wheat straw fiber are also often used to make compostable disposables. And if you’re looking for simply recyclable, there’s always paper, cardboard, and aluminum. Just make sure those products are fully recyclable (no plastic linings) and provide dine-in customers with a recycling bin to use on their way out.

Check out this infographic for 5 tips to make your restaurant more eco-friendly  View Now

Disposable Purchasing Considerations

Deciding which disposable dinnerware to purchase takes careful consideration. Price plays a role in any purchase, but purpose, performance, and brand image will play a big role here as well.

Think about your establishment’s specific disposable needs. Are you running a coffee shop, that will go through hundreds of cups and sleeves a day? Or is your place a popular spot for to-go sandwiches and salads during the weekday lunch rush? Whatever your specialty, you want to pick disposable containers and serveware that best suit your food and hold up to the necessary transport.
Disposables come in a wide range of costs depending on the type that you choose. Some disposables may have lower costs upfront, but investing in sturdier and more eco-friendly options can go a long way with your customers. Not only will they have a better dining experience, but they’ll see your brand’s commitment to helping the environment.
Regional factors such as temperature and altitude can have an effect on your disposables. For example, if you live in an area where the high is regularly above 110° F, compostable products made from corn are a no-go – they have a risk of melting in those temperatures when used outside or in hot cars. Make sure to think about factors like this and do your research before you buy.

Which disposable dinnerware is right for me?

With all of the options out there, how do you find the perfect disposables for your needs? Check out our chart below for a quick guide on the differences between plastic, paper, recyclable and compostable products.

Product Materials Good for Performance Environmental Benefits Price Point
Plastic Non-biodegradable and often non-recyclable. Range of colors makes them perfect for parties Good when leak-proof is needed Leakproof, durable, but not microwave friendly None. High
Paper Directly from trees, unless made of post-consumer recycled content Casual events, fast casual restaurants Lightweight and microwave safe Recyclable, unless they include plastic inserts Low
Recyclable Paper, certain types of plastic, and glass. Can be made of post-consumer recyclable content. Areas with recycling programs Varies according to material, but generally leak-proof, durable, suited for hot foods Many municipalities recycle a wide range of products including paper (without the plastic inserts), plastic water bottles, and more, reducing your footprint in landfills. Check your local regulations. Medium
Compostable Can be made with sugarcane, plant starch, bamboo, and other 100% renewable resources. Includes PLA and other bioplastic products. Areas and/or establishments with composting programs Durable, typically leak-proof. But products made of corn can melt in high temperatures Made of 100% renewable resources and can be fully composted High

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