How can I reuse or recycle used paper plates?

Finishing up our impromptu barbecue themed week, I thought I’d run a post that is sure to get some people screaming “DON’T USE THEM AT ALL! USE REAL, REUSABLE PLATES!!” – and those people have a very good point. The first part of the 3Rs is Reduce and disposable paper plates are really unnecessary in most situations – and also usually really frustrating to eat off.

However, they’re still useful in some situations – for example, extraordinarily big outdoor parties, especially for clumsy kids or festivals etc – so it’s probably worth thinking about ways to reuse or recycle them for those times when they’re almost unavoidable.

Between food waste and the often synthetic wax/plastic coating used to make them moisture resistant, you don’t really want them near your compost heap. You can get paper plates designed to be composted afterwards though – some made from thick paper, some from palm fronds, others from a light bamboo – just scrape off any large amount of food waste that might cause a problem for your heap. On our post about waxed cups, someone said you can recycle them at tetrapak recycling facilities – I would if this is true of waxed paper plates too…

Any other suggestions/advice? Or ideas for alternatives?

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7 Responses to “How can I reuse or recycle used paper plates?”


  1. I live in the Tropics where banana leaves are easily available and cost next to nothing. I cut squares of banana leaves and line the reusable plates/permanent tableware with them. After the meal, we just dump the leaves (if not too greasy and not too full of uneaten food — of course we try to avoid that by serving healthier dishes and smaller portions to discourage food wastage) into the compost pit and cover the pile of leaves with a layer of sand and ash from the barbecue grill to keep the insects away. The plates are then relatively clean and we won’t need as much water and detergent to wash them with. What alternatives can you think of to banana leaves?

  2. Cipollina says:

    We have several brands of both cups, plates, and cutlery made from maize starch that are 100% biodegradable, and some are even compostable – zero synthetics. Actually I don’t think I have seen any waxed paper plates in the stores for years.

  3. Nicole says:

    Make it BYOP – bring your own plate (plastic for children who drop things)

  4. Barbara says:

    I burn my paper plates over an open fire pit to save on refuge.

  5. carol says:

    I have bought several enamel ware plates over the years and we just use them when we would need paper plates. You can rinse them out side if need be and just wash them later. We also bring these to parties and bar b ques. People get a bit kick out of seeing them.

  6. Ammie says:

    We have a fair number of outdoor events on our deck (40 or more) a few times each summer. I bought 60 colorful, reuseable plastic plates at the end of one season for $1 each – bring ‘em out in a large basket lined with dishtowels; let guests scrape ‘em off, dirty ones back into a basket for clean up later, rinse, back into the basket and you’re good to go for next time. Our kids often have friends over as well – mostly chips and drinks. Place a large felt tip pen next to the large multi-colored disposable cups and tell each kid to put their name on it – they don’t always remember, but this generation is pretty eco-conscious. They’ll try –

    afelderwilliams@aol.com

  7. Take them to your nearest school or nursery. Let the kids spend a day making faces, characters or even landscapes using paint and pencils.

    Recycling isn’t always about reproducing a new product out of waste.



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