The quick cutlery material guide you've been waiting for
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
Eliminating single-use plastic from one's life is no straightforward pursuit. It can lead to a series of questions in search of better alternatives and new habits: Is compostable the same as biodegradable? Is wooden cutlery more environmentally friendly than biodegradable? How long does it take for a wooden knife to decompose? Lets have a closer look at a few of the most commonly used materials for disposable cutlery:
Breakdown time: When plastic cutlery ends up in a landfill, it can take up to 100 years to even begin to break down.
Considerations: Typically, the higher the number inside the recycling symbol on the material, the harder that material is to recycle. Most plasticware is made from plastic #6 – technically recyclable, but often not accepted by most recycling centres because it’s not cost effective.
Breakdown time: A biodegradable plastic bag takes three to six months to break down.
Considerations: “It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down,” Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme
Breakdown time: Wooden cutlery can compost in your own backyard pile in as few as 90 days.
Considerations: If the wood is going to be collected and composted then yes, much more environmentally friendly than even the 100% recycled plastic which chances are, can't be recycled a further time. But, if those wooden utensils are going to be thrown into the landfill, there is a chance they can take a huge amount of time to decompose as landfills aren't the correct environment for wood to break down properly.
To conclude, wood is clearly the material of preference, however, choosing the right material is just half of the job - correct recycling is crucial to minimise the footprint. If thrown in landfill, the choice of material matters less. Should you happen to use plastic cutlery, correct recycling makes a big difference.