How to dispose of and recycle disposable cutlery

Disposable cutlery makes washing up a piece of cake if you have a party or a lot of guests around for dinner. They are also incredibly popular with fast-food chains and airlines. But plastic cutlery takes around 1,000 years to decompose. If you want to understand how to dispose of plastic cutlery in a safe way, here is everything you need to know.

How to dispose of and recycle disposable cutlery

History of single-use plastic cutlery

Plastic cutlery became popular after WW2, as plastic was becoming more commonly used in the home. Manufacturers saw this as an opportunity to create plasticware that could be thrown away after one use. Because they required no water, electricity or manpower to wash, they became popular with fast-food restaurants and airlines.

What is disposable cutlery made from?

Plastic cutlery is made from either polypropylene or polystyrene.

Disposable plastic disposal

Unfortunately, polystyrene plastics can’t yet be recycled, meaning that they must be thrown away as general waste.

If you have polypropylene cutlery, this can usually be recycled. However, you may need to check with your local authority first.

What happens to plastic cutlery once it has been collected?

The polystyrene cutlery will go to landfill. The polypropylene, however, is collected, sorted, cleaned, reprocessed and melted.

Problems with disposable cutlery waste

If the cutlery is disposed of in general waste, it can fill up landfills and take hundreds of years to decompose.

However, in order to recycle polypropylene, it must be heated at a temperature of 2,400 °C . This is expensive and can cause fumes to enter the atmosphere which can be further damaging to the environment. Moreover, this material can’t be constantly recycled, meaning that it will end up in landfill during its lifecycle.

As a result, disposable cutlery is not eco-friendly.

Alternatives to disposable plastic cutlery

The most obvious alternative to using plastic cutlery is to always use reusable cutlery, such as metal cutlery. However, while this might be a simple solution for homes, it is not necessarily an option for large businesses such as takeaways, fast food restaurants and airlines.

The most eco-friendly option is to use biodegradable wooden cutlery, which is entirely compostable and will biodegrade much faster than plastic. Many companies are already making the switch to this type of cutlery, and this trend is likely to continue and grow.

Reusing plastic cutlery

If you’ve had a big party or have used plastic cutlery at a picnic, another way to protect the planet and avoid throwing it away is to simply wash it and re-use it. Although some pieces may break, plastic cutlery can be used multiple times and is convenient to use at gatherings or when you’re away from home.

Costs of recycling

Polypropylene plastic must be melted at a heat of 2,400 °C in order to be reused. Furthermore, in the world today, only about 1% of all polypropylene is recycled. Although efforts are being made to reduce the challenges involved with melting this plastic, the process is slow.

Facts about disposable cutlery

In the US alone, around 100 million pieces of disposable plastic cutlery are used each day.

Every single year, more than 40,000,000,000 million pieces of disposable plastic cutlery are thrown away.

Plastic cutlery is often thrown away into waterways, damaging animals while also contaminating the water.

The making of plastic cutlery involves a lot of energy, meaning that this process has a high carbon footprint.

Now, the UK and other countries are acting to place a ban on all plastic cutlery.

Where can you take disposable plastic cutlery to recycle and dispose of them for free?

Polypropylene cutlery can be disposed of in the normal plastic waste box if your local council accepts this type of plastic. Polystyrene cutlery can be thrown away for free.

The best way to dispose of plastic cutlery is to not use it at all. Instead, opt for cheap wooden versions or choose to stick to metal cutlery.

Visit our learn about section to find out more about how different products are disposed and recycled.

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