Party Plates With a Conscience

Ever think about how much waste we create over food and drink every time we organize a summer cookout, picnic or other outdoor gathering?

I hate to be an environmental downer, but it's time we get hip to all the debris we leave behind after our fun-loving feasts.

Two companies have taken on the challenge, offering a new take on disposable plates and cutlery that work in tandem with the environment rather landfills.

Bamboo is the medium for the dinner plates and table utensils manufactured by Bambu Home, a small Shanghai-based company owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Jeff Delkin and Rachel Speth.

Using certified organic bamboo, Bambu Home has created a vast line of housewares, including its Veneerware collection of single-use plates and forks, knives and spoons.

Single use -- what's so eco-fabulous about that?

Get this - they're biodegradable. That's right, throw'em in the trash, and within four months or so, while they're stewing at the dump, they'll actually decompose rather than take up more space on the mountain.

Although extremely lightweight, the plates are surprisingly sturdy and did a bang-up job holding up our dinner over Memorial Day weekend. I found a six-pack of dinner plates ($6.95) at the Crate & Barrel outlet in Old Town Alexandria and made a call to its Clarendon store to get confirmation of availability there as well ($9.95).

I also put in a call to Future Green, the new super cool eco "home and family center" (1469 Church Street NW) and learned that it will have both plates and utensils in stock in about a week.

Bambu Home's Web site also suggests checking Sur La Table locations, Smith & Hawken, as well as shopping online at cooking.com.

I know, the price may seem steep - 7 to 10 bucks for a pack of party plates -and much more for the four 3-piece settings ($24.95). But if you're the kind of party host who likes to spend with a conscience, you may want to give these stylish beauties a whirl. Belkin tells me that the company has committed to donating one percent of their sales to 1 % for the Planet, an alliance of eco-minded organizations.

A more affordable option (although not biodegradable) is the line of plates and cutlery from Recycline. Available in frisky shades of "lilac purple," "tulip red" and "pear green," these plates and utensils are not only made from 100 percent recycled plastic but are reusable (and dishwasher safe). I love this!

"In the world of disposable items, there's a lot of plastic that gets used for two minutes for that burger and then goes into the trash," says Ben Anderson, who oversees Recycline's new product development. He says people are surprised by how sturdy and thick the plates are, not to mention the added bonus of throwing them into the dishwasher.

Check them out at Whole Foods locations (about $6.99 for an eight-pack of plates; $5 for cutlery for 8) and online at amazon.com or drugstore.com.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 1, 2006; 11:45 AM ET  | Category:  Discoveries , Entertaining
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Don't waste your money. Landfills are compacted and covered with dirt. This removes air from the trash, which pretty much stops all degredation. It's actually more eco friendly to use plastic plates. Plastic compacts more, saving landfill space over the long run.

Posted by: Jeff | June 1, 2006 12:52 PM

It's great to hear about these products, but better yet, why not use your everyday plates and utensils -- they can go in the dishwasher, too!

Posted by: CSM | June 1, 2006 01:03 PM

Who cares if plastic compacts better. The point is not to make landfills smaller but to not put stuff in them at all! I like CSM's philosophy.

Posted by: Jess | June 1, 2006 03:03 PM

"Get this - they're biodegradable". So are paper plates. To know if plates made from bamboo are any better than paper (remember the trees are grown organicaly, too) we'd need to know the impact of the manufacturing process.

Posted by: Deborah | June 1, 2006 06:29 PM

Kim, very few people seem to know this, but the "disposable" colorful plastic plates that are sold at party stores hold up extremely well in the dishwasher. I've been using the same package of 30-or-so bright red plastic plates for literally SEVEN YEARS. Same for those tall plastic cups: run 'em through the dishwasher and reuse until they break -- they will last years.

Of course, it's great that Recycline is using "100% recycled plastic" (query: how much is post-consumer?), but those of us who don't have acces to their outlets (or can't afford their products) can act in an environmentally-sensitive manner as well.

Posted by: DMS | June 12, 2006 01:05 PM

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