Before you bag up your post-party disposables, consider giving a second chance to everything from plastic sporks to plates.
Plastic plates, cups, and utensils
IvancoVlad / Getty Images
| Credit: IvancoVlad / Getty Images

Many of us aim to take steps towards reducing our carbon footprint, and are mindful of how much we tend to throw in the trash. But what's the proper protocol with plastic utensils and plates? If we throw a backyard barbecue, for instance, it's not always sensible to break out our best china. And yet, we're hardly looking to clutter landfills with a soiree's worth of forks and Solo cups.

Since this topic can be divisive - seriously, a simple web query will bring up tons of pro and con arguments regarding reusing plastics - we figured we'd ask an expert weigh in.

Alexandra Davis spent a decade working as a plastics engineer for the largest, private thermoplastic compounder in the world. She went on to create Ryan and Alex Duo Life, a health and wellness site for couples. Both of which make her perfectly positioned to comment on the consequences of reusing plastics!

"It gave me insight into a world not shared by consumers," Davis said of her former career. "And when it comes to the requirements that disposable and reusable plastics undergo, you might be surprised to find that most countries actually default to the EU's or USA's FDA food contact policies."

So no matter where in the world those disposable bowls were sourced from, they're likely to be regulated by strict policies, concerning matters such as how the plastic reacts to acids found in foods like apples, tomatoes, and coffee. And yes, every element of the little plastic knife on your cheese board needs to pass muster, from the materials themselves to the additives used for color.

The upshot? "For the most part, plastic plates, cups and utensils can be reused. Particularly when hand washed, as the dishwasher's higher temperatures can reduce the product's lifespan," Davis said. She does advise to look out for signs of cracking, since those little fissures can harbor bacteria, but maintains that you don't generally need to worry about chemicals leaching into your food.

If you're still on the fence about reusing plastic, there are disposables on the market that couple convenience with sustainability. Take the appropriately named Repurpose, which sells compostable tableware made entirely of plants. Non-toxic and totally reusable, you can wash them in the dishwasher or throw them in the microwave.

When it comes to materials, bamboo is an especially environmentally-friendly option, carried by companies such as Green WaveBambu Veneerware, and Green Paper Products. And if you're still looking for straight-up disposables, make sure they've been treated with compostable polylactic acid, which is used in the utensils, straws, and cups sold by Eco-Products.

So next time you throw a party, consider holding onto those disposables. Because with a little TLC, you can breathe new life into barbecue-smeared plates, cake crumb-crusted utensils, and wine-stained Solo cups!

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