Storm in a plastic cup

plastic cup

There was a bit of a brouhaha on  Facebook  over the weekend involving paper plates and napkins, and plastic cups and cutlery. A prominent blogger posted that she used the above items when life got all too hard and she couldn’t face the dishes. I clicked through and discovered this was a weekly occurrence.

Anyone who dared comment on the post suggesting this was wasteful got completely bitch-slapped as being judgmental. People responded with “I bet you’re not the greenest person on the planet” and all kinds of vitriol that only occurs in online spaces. I copped a bit of this when I shared the post to the DTEM Facebook page, which surprised me considering my “followers” are supposed to be greenies.

The point of this post is not to defend my actions (some people have suggested it goes against blogger code to share and criticise another blogger’s post and I respect that opinion), but I would like to clarify what I meant by the caption I added to the post when I shared it.

I’m the boy with his finger in the hole

What I said was:”And this makes me want to cry…”

It makes me want to cry because:

  1. We have become a throw-away society.
  2. Here is a person of influence telling her 30,000+ followers it’s okay to throw away *just a few plates* (see below) when it all gets too hard.
  3. I work constantly to minimise my family’s impact, often doing things “the hard way” and living a life, yes, less convenient (but fab in every other way). But it’s all in vain if next door they’re eating off paper plates and using plastic knives and forks. I felt a familiar sense of apathy creeping over me.

Most of all, this is a comment about our growing addiction to convenience. I have no problem with paper plates per se – they were designed to make things more convenient – you know, picnics, hikes, sprawling family gatherings and the like. I feel the same way about disposable nappies and plastic water bottles. They are useful in certain situations. The problem is, they’re no longer mere conveniences, they’re the norm, and we have completely lost touch with where and what they come from.

Just a few plates

Don’t bother trying to determine whether paper plates are more environmentally friendly than glass or ceramic plates, there are simply too many variables. I for one have no intention of asking the blogger whether her dishwasher is the most energy-efficient model. Or if plate-breaking is a common occurrence in her home, in which case paper would definitely win.

One of the common arguments was that the paper plates could be recycled (most people decided to ignore that it was a full table-setting of disposables) and were therefore not that big a deal. But what about the water used to grow or recycle the raw materials? What about the energy costs of transporting the tree to the mill, the pulp to the factory, the shipment from Chin?  Or the virgin plastic used to make the packing? (Click here to read some big old numbers about paper production.)

If you want to live sustainably, which I do, reusable has to be the first choice. One by one, you need to let go of single-use anything (except toilet paper, I am not willing to go there…). Why? Because every non-renewable resource we use (such as the embodied energy of disposable cups and plates) is a resource our children don’t have access to, whether it can be recycled or not.

So what are we to do?

For one, if you find yourself in the kitchen close to tears because you can’t face the dishes, allow yourself to throw a tea-towel over them and worry about it in the morning.

Secondly, think about everything you throw away, including into the recycling. How much of it was grown/extracted, designed, produced, marketed and transported so that it could be used just once and then thrown away?

Finally, if you want to use disposable cups, plates or cutlery occasionally (as in “for an occasion”), source eco-friendly versions such as these. They still come with all the associated embodied energy costs, but these have been consciously minimised. There are some more ideas on eco-friendly entertaining here.
photo credit: Hvnly via photopin cc

What do you use that’s disposable? Could you switch to a reusable option?


  1. Anne-Maree says

    I agree wholeheartedly. I found the comments on facebook really aggravating – and the worse thing? The attitude of ‘if you don’t agree with something, you should just ignore it’. ARRRRGGHHHH! That is the VERY thing that is WRONG with the world! ‘if you don’t like it then shut up, stick your head in the sand, pretend ignorance’. I’m the pain-in-the-butt even at work as I won’t let them use disposable plates etc, but at home is just unforgiveable. Good on you for standing up for what you believe in.

  2. tricia says

    p.s. I’m still stewing on that pic. I just spent a year living in a home without running water. We washed our dishes in a bucket that we carted in from the tap outside (heated in our solar heater or on the stove top). Not once did I consider using disposable plates. I read a few comments on the original post about it freeing up time to cuddle your children. But what breaks my heart is that because of the way we abuse convenience and disposables – our children may never get to cuddle their children. Or our children’s children won’t get to cuddle their children and so on. Grr…I better stop ranting.

    I have a draft post about convenience that I’ve been meaning to finish. I think I just found the motivation to finish it. x
    tricia recently posted..Pantry shopping – save money & reduce food wasteMy Profile

  3. Eliza says

    I do really love this article, because as I stewed on the FB situation these are all the things I wanted to write my own blog entry about. I did put myself into the shoes of a mother with a large family and it made me wonder if it is possible to have so many children and still have prime concern for the environment. I think your priorities would be different by necessity. As her blog post declared, having so many children is sometimes about survival. I would love to hear from eco warrior Mums with large families and hear how they combat going into survival mode in an eco way. It’s a whole different way of living than how our family survives the tough times with just one kid.
    Thanks for being brave enough to write this entry.
    Eliza recently posted..Believe in what you buy.My Profile

  4. Chelsea says

    Great post – and I love your ideas, esp leaving the dishes till morning which is what I do every night LOL. We bought cups for entertaining and we just use a variety of plates – and yes it takes longer to clean up but I love not having the waste. I would never even consider using disposables for just our family – and not having them in the house makes it impossible anyway. We arent the most eco friendly household, but little by little each little step adds up. Always love your posts – thanks for sharing. x
    Chelsea recently posted..“How To Build Character At Home” Ebook Launch and GiveawayMy Profile

  5. Susan says

    I must admit I do the paper/plastic tableware when I throw a big party but not when it’s just me and the family hanging at home – outrageous! Just leave them dirty and sort it out the next day if you can’t face it.
    Susan recently posted..Oh crap, my baby has a tan…My Profile

  6. Verity says

    Tricia hit the nail on the head regarding the impacts that our convenient choices today may have on our children’s children.

    Eliza, one of my sisters has 7 children (a big ecological footprint in itself) and I cannot even imagine her resorting to disposable plates just for the sake of convenience. Until recently they didn’t even have a microwave and still do all their dishes by hand! I wouldn’t call her an Eco warrior but she is daily proof that a large family doesn’t have to mean disregarding the environment:)

    I’m so glad that you mentioned embodied energy in this post Jo. So often we forget about it!

    I find that the best way to handle excessive dishes either on a regular basis, or after a large gathering is to ensure that the whole family helps out. (I’m slightly OCD so can’t handle leaving them on the bench:)) Amongst our circle of friends it’s usual for guests to chip in to help out with the clean up (often with a tasty beverage to assist), leaving no one to feel overwhelmed or besieged by housework!

    No-one is perfect (personally I use disposable nappies some nights and fly far too much, amongst a list of other sins), but we should each try to consider the environmental impact of our conveniences and definitely opt for reusable options wherever possible…

    Finally Jo, I know from personal experience that online vitriol can hurt so I just want to personally thank you for challenging our culture of convenience and standing up for our environment. Keep up the wonderful work!
    Verity recently posted..Nesting – The Ultimate Excuse for a Good DeclutterMy Profile

  7. Kelly says

    Well said! I think it can be uncomfortable to accept that some of our choices can be detrimental, but from that discomfort potentially comes innovation. It seems that it offends to think bigger and more widely (than our own homes) about the impact of what we are doing. I say it’s worth triggering the momentary offence for the long term benefit to the planet. <3
    Kelly recently posted..Dealing With A Crabby ChildMy Profile

  8. Laura Trotta says

    I totally agree with you Jo and admire you for standing your ground. Without people like you with the courage to challenge the status quo, we will continue to mess up our environment for our kids and grandkids.

  9. Bek @ Just For Daisy says

    I am actually quite shocked at the amount of support for such a wasteful habit… and I’ll call it that because I think it sounds like a habit they’re in. Since 2012!
    I wonder also if older children could assume some responsibility with the cleaning duties?
    I am just saddened by how many believe this is okay AND are defensive in response to those who do not agree. Yikes!
    So glad you’re battling for the good Jo Earth Mother! xxx
    Bek @ Just For Daisy recently posted..Baby #3!!My Profile

  10. Amy Ha says

    Put aside all the “technicalities” of the actual subject (disposable stuff!!), I personally find all the “bitch slapping” disappointing. Especially when said author of that “prominent blog” came in and got all upset about it. The way I see it, was that you simply disagreed with her idea. Well big deal! Since when did it become such a crime? Surely if one’s been writing a blog for so long, with so many followers, then one’d be used to a few people disagreeing with you and would know how to acknowledge that politely? No?
    I’m not taking sides or anything but the reaction from those people put me off that other blog completely. What a load of vitriol out of nothing!

    Keep up your good work Jo! Thank you for doing what you’re doing!


  11. narelle says

    Good on you Jo for pushing buttons – when we open discussion we look at our moral values attached to our behaviours….

    Last year we went through and put out all our plastic everything – especially reading about the toxins in the plastic – in the bin and replaced it with glass and pottery and stainless from the local op shop.

    Keep it up Jo, your on the brink of something beautiful.

    x x
    narelle recently posted..Come and join us….My Profile

  12. Michael says

    I fully support your stance. Everyone gets lazy every now and then but using disposables is just slack. As the previous commenter stated – just leave them for the morning or get a dishwasher.
    As for not being able to comment on other blogs if you disagree, that is ridiculous. If someone is able to say what they want and sprout mistruths or encourage bad behaviours then others should be able to call them out on it and bring attention to it.
    If this didn’t happen then typically those behaviours would be accepted. I see that many internet browsers are like sheep and don’t think critically about what they read. Your comments would hopefully have shown to those non-sheep that just because it is written on the internet, newspapers, tv or elsewhere doesn’t mean that it is right or fact. Well done.

  13. Romi says

    Jo, this makes me want to cry too.

    You are so right about other options in such an overwhelmed situation (perceived overwhelmed) Great article and I love reading your blog.

    Thanks and Well done.

  14. Ashilleong says

    I agree. It’s one thing to use disposables for an occasion (that’s what the were designed for) and another to use them every day.

  15. Rebecca Prince-Ruiz says

    You are so right, single-use disposable plastics are used so briefly but last forever. Its so heartening to hear of so many people for whom this personal ‘convenience’ isn’t worth the environmental cost. Keep up the inspiring work.

  16. Bec @ The Plumbette says

    I wouldn’t have had an issue with the post on Facebook at all if you had taken your own photo of plastic plates and cups and asked your followers what they thought of a large family resorting to using plastic plates and etc for survival nights instead of using their dishes. Your readers would have still voiced their uproar about the post without knowing and judging the blogger who shared it in the first place. As bloggers we are meant to inspire and lead by example of what should and shouldn’t be done on social media or the net and unfortunately sharing that bloggers post with their name on it for all your “followers” to see put your readers in a situation where they felt it was their right to judge too. I love your blog Jo because it opens my mind to Eco friendly living but that Facebook post really grated on me because of the way it was shared and I know that that blogger has had issues with trolls and your post didnt have her best intentions at heart. I don’t think it’s just blogger protocol, it’s human respect.
    Bec @ The Plumbette recently posted..My experience at the Colour ConferenceMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      Thanks for being so upfront and eloquent about your thoughts on this Bec, I truly take it on board and will think twice (or sleep on it) in the future xx


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