disposable vs. durable

Metal knives on planes but paper forks in our own kitchens?

I’m starting to stock up on snacks in anticipation of mealtime on my flight in a couple days. It lasts 5 hours and I’ll be lucky if I get as many pretzels. When rising jet fuel prices forced airlines to cut costs, passenger amenities were the first to go. Yet even now that the shale boom set oil abundantly and cheaply flowing in the U.S., the ticket fuel surcharges remain and the in-flight snacks they serve wouldn’t satisfy a squirrel.

If flight duration and cost economy is the issue, how odd then that my on my quick 80 minute international flight (between countries that do not subsidize gasoline) I was served a complete breakfast–with real silverware to boot!

Planes are sensitive to weight, so logically plastic cutlery should be favored over heavy silverware. Time is of urgency on flights, so you’d think stewards would prefer disposable utensils that can be quickly tossed in the trash rather than laboring over the sink to wash them afterwards.

Why then would some aircrafts revert to using fancy flatware, like they used to do back when 1950s passengers donned their pearls for the occasion?

In our modern American culture of terrorism threats, NSA alerts, metal detectors, and TSA restrictions that generate fear over pointy metal objects on planes, I thought perhaps only domestic U.S. flights would shy away from sharp-tined forks and knives that could lead to puncture wounds.

It may just be a class distinction. Economy class passengers on some fllights eat pre-packaged meals on plastic trays with plastic utensils; in first class they are provided actual plates with silverware and glasses for beverages. It seems like classism to stereotype coach passengers as dangerous and business types as trustworthy (or worthy of the pleasure of authentic dining). Ties could plausibly be used to strangulate a pilot, yet no restrictions are placed on neckwear in executive class.

These seating divisions are erased once we land, and back in the comfort of our own home kitchen we’re free to do as we please. There are no weight restrictions favoring lighter plastic or paper. No rush for a connecting flight. Time is always of the essence, but I find the argument that “this will save us time” unconvincing when conversing over a leisurely-paced meal served on quick-fix paper plates, with plastic forks and paper towels as napkins.

It really comes down to convenience versus conscientiousness. How environmentally sound is it, though, to wash ceramic plates rather than toss single-use ones? Water and electricity— both in the one-off manufacturing and lifetime cleaning processes, transportation, landfill space, detergent, and the ceramic, Styrofoam, paper or plastic resources all must be taken into account.

With Memorial Day weekend plans coming up, let’s tackle the issue of reusable versus throw-away dishes to make sure our picnics, camping trips, and other holiday outings are as ecological as they are memorable.

Which do you prefer: ceramic, paper, or plastic? And why?

Share your opinions as we engage in the great debate: machine vs. hand washing…vs. disposables.



Carrie is an environmental educator, anthropologist, and translator. She took her passions for ecological, health, and women’s rights advocacy from the offices of Washington, D.C. to the streets of South America. Now in Colombia, she is slowly opening women’s eyes to the wonders of “la copita de luna” (Moon Cup) and Keepers.

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One Response to Durable vs. Disposable Utensils On the Go and At Home
  1. Thanks designed for sharing such a pleasant opinion, post is good,
    thats why i have read it fully


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