Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Q & A: The Dishware Dilemma

Reader Question: Could you share what company you used for the compostable dishware? I am currently weighing the options of renting dishware from a caterer vs. buying disposable, compostable dishware and flatware. Costwise the disposable is the way to go for sure. But from an environmental standpoint, I'm wondering if it's better to rent because they won't be thrown away, are reused often and just need a wash afterwards. Even buying compostable feels a bit wasteful. The other consideration is how it looks and how well it stands up to food. Did you find that what you got was sturdy enough and still looked alright?

Yeah, you've perfectly articulated one of the dilemmas we faced. Real dishware is way better for the environment than anything disposable (even if it is compostable). Disposable stuff wastes a lot of energy in the production and distribution stages. And then there's the packaging and later the disposal.

But as much as Matt and I care for the environment (we even try not to use paper towels in our house--we use dishtowels and rags instead), we were really intent on sticking to our budget. Real dishware would have cost more and been more stressful, given our situation.

In the end, we balanced those two conflicting goals (i.e., being eco-friendly and budget-friendly) by buying compostable cups, bowls, forks, and spoons from World Centric. We were able to get compostable plates from Sam's Club.

The stuff was definitely sturdy enough. The plates held salsa, guacamole, nacho cheese, bean and corn salad, and fajitas. The bowls held brownie cherry dessert with ice-cream (which we served at the Welcome Picnic).

However, it definitely wasn't a Martha Stewart spread. Heck, I can't think of one wedding I've seen (even on A Practical Wedding and Offbeat Bride--Meg and Ariel, correct me if I'm mistaken!) that has featured disposable tableware. The only thing I can think of were picnic boxes (which were very aesthetically pleasing and color-coordinated).

Honestly, there were many moments when I looked at wedding porn and coveted other people's table settings (photographers tend to take lots of pictures of such things). When I felt myself succumbing to jealousy, I just had to remind myself that weddings are about community, connection, commitment, and fun--not tableware.

Of course those things aren't mutually exclusive. You can have a lovely table setting (with real plates that are better for the environment) and have a meaningful and memorable wedding.

For us, however, we had to prioritize our budget and settle for the second-best environmental option.

E-mail your questions to saracotner@yahoo.com

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11 comments:

Elizabeth said...

I was just talking to a caterer yesterday, and he said after doing a wedding for the daughter of the manager of the city's recycling program, he encourages his customers NOT to use the corn-based "biodegradable" silverware. The recycling manager said the corn silverware doesn't actually biodegrade, but just turns into little corn-pellets. Also, the recycling center does recycle plastic silverware and the corn-based silverware gets mixed in with the plastic and can ruin an entire block of recycled plastic, so it all has to be thrown away.

Of course, this is only on the disposal end, and plastic silverware is still made of plastic, even if you can recycle them.

I was really surprised about the corn silverware, because it is definitely advertised as biodegradable.

Sara said...

I love this story because it's a great lesson about how we often have to make tough choices and to recognize that it's enough to do our best to plan weddings that are in line with our values.

It's especially interesting because it's really tough to plan a wedding that is simultaneously "green" and "budget." I would love to serve organic food served at our reception, for example, but it's so expensive that it's not in the budget. So we're instead going to choose an independent local caterer who fits our budget, which satisfies our desire to support independent artisans and is as closely in line with our green values as we can afford to get. Tough choices, but at the end of the day we're at peace with the fact that we're doing our best. :)

A possible alternative to corn-based products would be bamboo, which is more expensive but also biodegradable and compostable: http://www.greenfeet.com/items.asp?Cc=DISPS_TABLEWARE.

Great topic!

Marina said...

Uh oh--I was planning to use compostable forks and plates and cups and things, but Elizabeth, your comment got me really worried! After a quick google search I found http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/197/1/Degradable-Biodegradable-Compostable.html which says that "biodegradable" and "compostable" are different things... how counter intuitive is that...

Anyway, I would love to see more thoughts and links about that. I don't want to buy disposable stuff if it doesn't even degrade properly!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Yeah, I forgot to mention that corn is actually really terrible for the environment. I've been meaning to watch the documentary King Corn: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1112115/

Soli said...

This is definitely not for everybody, but I found white dinner plates at Garden Ridges for 50 cents each, so that I could reuse them. Since then, I've bartered with other bride's via Craigslist, so that we can both get what we want for our weddings and be environmentally friendly at the same time!

This Girl Asia said...

Another great idea for dish wear? Hit up that second hand store! Dishes can go for as little as 25 cents!

We're going that route and donating the dishes to a womens shelter and Food Not Bombs after we're done.

backyardwedding said...

We did thrift store dishes. It took a ton of work to find them all, and then you have to wash them after the wedding. But you can resell them afterwards to offset the cost (no more than renting dishes anyway) or just give them away for reuse.

Finding silverware at thrift stores was a whole different story. I would rent that if I had to do it over. It wasn't cheap used, and forks are practically nonexistent at thrift shops.

Kate Farley said...

Backyardwedding - you read my mind about the silverware! We were considering thrifting that, but I have also found that there is an abundance of spoons and not many forks.

I'm currently awaiting a sample pack of dishes from worldcentric.com (what Sara said she used) and will report on our decision re: disposable vs renting.

Jessica said...

For those of you looking into the boxed lunch picnic wedding, we did a boxed lunch thing for a reunion not long ago and mrtakeoutbox.com has really cute kraft paper compostable boxes.

Kate Farley said...

I got my sample pack and I have to say that as far as disposable goes, they are quite nice. We set up a sample table setting to check out what it might look like. I think that we've decided that for convenience we'll rent since the caterer will just take it away dirty and it only costs $100 more. My parents would have to pack up the recycling and drive to the dump and they said they'd spring for the rentals to avoid the annoyance.

Oh and I found flatware super super cheap at a restaurant supply and plan on donating what we don't keep when we're done. So we'll save some money on that.

antique china replacement said...

We just bought the sturdy, throw-away king since it only cost $10 from costco and was more than enuff. It turned out great.
-Jack

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