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.
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