Environmental: Disposable or Washable?

What do you think is environmentally more friendly? Or will it have more nuisances?
Disposable paper towel or washable cloth towel?
Disposable paper/plastic plates or washable ceramic plates?
Disposable bamboo chopsticks or washable plastic chopsticks?
Maybe disposable paper plates are better than disposable plastic plates

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Good question. I don’t use plastic. But I’m a abuser of paper towels.


My gut feeling is that washable is better in all cases except possibly disposable bamboo vs washable plastic. I would say washable bamboo chopsticks beats them both. We never use disposable dishes or cutlery at home and have drastically cut down on our paper towel usage once we started using washable kitchen towels.

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When the cat throws up, I want paper towels. :joy_cat: Otherwise, washable dish towels live in my kitchen.


Of your first three, I would (and do) go for the washable option.

My guess (and I’ve no expertise so it really is a guess) is that paper plates are more environmentally kind than plastic ones. They come from a renewable product and will degrade once disposed of.

Disposable paper towel or washable cloth towel? Both
Disposable paper/plastic plates or washable ceramic plates? Washable
Disposable bamboo chopsticks or washable plastic chopsticks? Washable

Our local municipality has asked us to clean any grease out of pans/skillets with a paper towel prior to washing. There has been a problem with FOG (fats, oils, grease) getting into the sewer lines and causing problems. So I do use paper towels for that along with other cleanup jobs (when appropriate). I’ll also use paper plates for heating up items in the microwave. I want to reduce the number of dishes going into the dishwasher so I just have one load per day.
I did have minor surgery last spring and paper plates, plastic utensils and Styrofoam cups were my friends. I froze a lot of single serve meals in freezer bags to feed my girlfriend and me. Just heated them up (one at a time) on a paper plate, serve and throw everything away.
As far as disposable wooden chopsticks, they go into the fireplace (winter) or hibachi outdoor grill (summer) as kindling.

Disposable paper towel or washable cloth towel? Both, for different applications
Disposable paper/plastic plates or washable ceramic plates? Washable., or biodegradable (e.g. made from pressed leaves or similar). I never buy plastic or styrofoam unless for some reason I cannot imagine now.
Disposable bamboo chopsticks or washable plastic chopsticks? We are not a chopsticks household, so we have a stock of bamboo chopsticks given with takeout food.

Really depends on what means by “environmentally friendly”

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I do that paper towel/grease thing with my pans anyway because of clogging pipes. I’m on a stack, so I don’t want to contribute to a building wide problem. I too had surgery, and had to use disposable plates for a while. I used pressed palm leaf plates that could be wiped down a couple of times before tossing. Bamboo utensils. Wasn’t allowed to lift anything over a couple of pounds, so no cooking to speak of.

Yeah… whether you’re on sewer or septic, not a good idea. Pans with grease I’ll heat on low for a couple of minutes and pour them off into saved ice cream containers and store in the freezer until they’re full (then they go out to the trash). This leaves very little to wipe out with a paper towel.


I use a mix of cotton kitchen towels and paper towels. Paper towels for very greasy or dirty surface. For example when using salt/oil to mixture to scrub carbon steel pan, I use paper towels.

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Disposable towels I use to clean up grease. Good fire starter. I sup up water with a towel.

I went all ceramic this year and had no problem keeping up. Better service ware, too.

I just reuse bamboo chopsticks. Call the cops.

Anything left, I can burn. Starts a fire that ends up smelling like heaven (had thick cherry branches this year.)

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule to be applied, and much depends on where you are. It reminds me of the diaper question of cloth vs. disposable. Back when the little 'pads were babes, if you were in the east (of the US), use cloth. In the west (still US), use disposable. The thinking was the east had plenty of water but not a lot of landfill, so using and laundering cloth diapers had a smaller environmental footprint than filling up the local dump. In the west, water is precious (and now getting even more so), but space in landfill is plentiful, at least for now, so disposables were the way to go. That, of course, is very oversimplified, and the calculus may have changed in the last 30 years, but probably not by much.

When Mrs. ricepad and I go out for Asian food where we know (or reasonably expect) they’ll provide single-use chopsticks, we take our own titanium chopsticks (complete with a travel case). We also have sets of travel utensils in two of our cars to reduce our use of disposable tableware. We also take our own containers to restaurants for leftovers to reduce single-use leftover packaging, and we’ve really cut back on patronizing restaurants that use EPS boxes for leftovers when our own boxes are not possible.


We tried to do this in our town a few years ago, and were told that local regulations forbade this :astonished:
I don’t know if this has changed, I have not tried again.

Really. Not for me. I think it depends at what stage you use the “reused” food containers. If you ask the staffs to put the foods in your reused food containers, then they are probably not allowed to do it. However, the restaurants cannot stop me to do this for myself.

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Yeah, what @Chemicalkinetics said. They can’t take your containers into the kitchen and pack your food there. But you can pack it yourself at the table.


Thank you @Chemicalkinetics and @small_h
I will try to remember this next time we dine in and have leftovers. I was thinking of the take-out scenario.

Right - you kind of don’t want restaurant workers handling what could be someone’s not-very-clean stuff, and then your food. I prefer to pack my leftovers myself anyway, control freak that I am.

one has to / should… look at the cradle to grave issues.
the energy/oil/gasoline/diesel required to harvest/transport trees . . .
the energy required to pulp trees into paper . . .
the waste stream ‘problematics’ of a paper mill . . .

same with glass. the costs to ship virgin product, recapture empty glass, remelt glass, just like paper and plastic . . . each ‘recycle’ is degraded ‘quality’

same with ‘washables’ - finished cotton does not grow on trees - the energy and water needed to produce that eco-towel is not insignificant. and ‘washable’ (in the industrial nations…) means more water, hot water, detergents, electricity to make the washing thing work, (more electricity to dry it…), plus all the energy, materials, water, etc, to make the machines . . .

Aluminum - huge costs to refine the ore into metal (electric smelting is best technology) - however recycling is a bright spot in that remelted/recycled aluminum does not suffer a similar ‘down grade’ path as glass or paper.

bottom line . . . . the best choice to minimize “eco damage” is not as simple as the Gretas would have us all believe.