Plastic vs. Biodegradable & Compostable? Which one is better?


You must have noticed all the different options there are when choosing your tableware for your party. Have you ever wondered if paper is more bio-friendly or if recyclable plastic is better? Or what the difference is between compostable and biodegradable? Yes, we get it, it can be confusing and none of it is very simple because recycling depends on the capacity of your district.

When planning environmentally-friendly events, the ultimate goal, obviously, is to be as waste-free as possible. Meaning: there wouldn't be disposable products at all! 

Understandably, this is not always possible. Let's compare how long it takes for each of these materials to decompose (for the material to break down and dissolve): 

How long does it take for each disposable material to break down in the landfill?

Biodegradable vs Compostable

Companies are doing a lot of "greenwashing" to make their products sound eco-friendly.*

The terms "biodegradable" and "compostable" are tricky because the conditions where the materials are dumped must be optimal for the decomposition to take place.

The term biodegradable, furthermore, doesn't have a time limit. A company can label their plastic as biodegradable because given conducive conditions, it can biodegrade in months.

However, under less than optimal conditions it might not biodegrade for a couple of centuries! And landfills do not provide those optimal conditions, which include oxygen and specific types of bacteria needed for these products to decompose. Here's an article testing "biodegradable" plastic bags in an experiment highlighted by the Smithsonian that illustrates this point.

Imagine that trash sitting outside on your lawn, waiting for you for a year when you open the windows every morning. Not nice, eh?

On the other hand, compostable starts with organic substances and returns to the earth. Some compostable materials will even provide useful nutrients within a short period of time for the ground, in essence becoming fertilizer.

From all the options, if we have to pick up disposable tableware to the event, we prefer compostable materials. These plates are designed to decompose faster (within a couple of months) and without harming nature (no toxins). 

"Compostable products are clearly the best option for all disposable and reusable products."

If there is a necessity to use disposable plates, for instance, we definitely recommend going with compostable, like bamboo, sugarcane and palm leaf plates.

For these plates to break down as quickly as possible, they should be composted in the composting bins where you can control the temperature, moisture and other factors. If you do have a composting bin in your household, then this is an excellent option for you.

For those of you who don't have composting bins in your homes, seek out local providers who might be able to offer composting for you. Tell D'Light about your next event, we can help you find eco-friendly party supplies, composting partners and more!

When planning menus we think the best is to serve food that guests can eat on a napkin!
When planning menus we think the best is to serve food that guests can eat on a napkin!

Paper vs Plastic

Paper does break down faster in the landfill than plastic. Also, paper as material can be recycled, but there are a couple of problems with paper plates: local recycling plants do not accept paper and carton with food stains. Also, paper products are created and treated with the same kind of toxins as plastic plates. So besides greasy paper products not being recyclable, it could be just as be dangerous for you and your guests.

"When planning menus cloth napkins are the best eco-friendly option!"

Energy Spent in Manufacturing and Distribution of Products

Another important factor when organizing our bio-friendly events is, of course, the carbon footprint of manufacturing and distribution.

This is less under the consumer's control and is rather complicated. Whereas natural materials such as wool, paper, hemp, cotton, linen, silk, and other natural fibers decompose the easiest, leaving us with less toxic trash, they nevertheless incur ecological costs associated with animal-raising, farming and manufacturing of the materials.

However, there are elevated ecological costs associated with the manufacture of synthetic materials such as rayon, polyesters and plastics that include the extraction of oil and chemical processing. In the end, they could remain in our environment for centuries, surrounding us with toxic materials.

And of course, regional or local products are best to try to alleviate some of the carbon emissions from delivery.

Reusable Table Setting for Eco-Friendly Events

"When you connect with the catering company, ask about the rental plates and utensils."

It will be very easy to add these items into your order. If your catering company does not rent plates and utensils, you can Google a company in your area. There are also rental companies that let you quickly fill out the order online.

And the best part: usually with rental plates you don't have to worry about cleaning because they will do it for you - what a time saver!

"I will always prefer a rental over any disposable simply because avoiding any kind of trash is the solution I'm looking for when planning eco-friendly events."

Green Recommendations for the Socialite: Buy Reusable & Store Them!

If you are a true party animal and you throw multiple parties in a year, I recommend getting your own small storage. Buy inexpensive regular plates at Ikea or the Dollar Store, or if you'd like to go super eco-friendly, look into second-hand stores or vintage boutiques and collect the most hip tableware set of all time!

See our Pinterest account to discover the photographer for this image of a beautiful table setting.
See our Pinterest account to discover the photographer for this image of a beautiful table setting.