Culinary Experiences

Can Disposable Dishware be Sustainable? 

We just got back from a trip up north visiting the United States of America.   It is always interesting to see what sustainability projects seem to gain popularity up north and how it reflects on our guests that visit us here at our sustainable hotels and eco lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

compostable dishware
How Sustainable is disposable dishware that is compostable?

We saw an increased awareness in a few places about the negative impact of plastic water bottles.  We saw people with refillable water bottles and applaud the effort by Rock Resorts to take out plastic bottles out of their hotel rooms.  This is very much in line with our efforts here at the Cayuga Hotels to completely eliminate disposable plastic bottles for any kind of beverages.

However, one thing that shocked us was the increase in disposable dishes everywhere.  We understand that “nobody likes to do the dishes” but this is not the way to go.  While we were not able to find any reliable statistics on how many millions of tons of waste are produced by restaurant outlets, it is obvious that this is not a sustainable development.  The culture of “eating on the go” is not only unhealthy, but also creates mounts of trash.

Fish Tacos at Lapa Rios Eco Lodge in Costa Rica
These fish tacos are always served on a porcelain plate.  Not only do they taste better like that, they are also more sustainable.  Less trash.

And it seems that what is fueling this trend is the same concept that used to (or still is) creating double digit growth numbers to plastic bottle water sales.  In the case of plastic bottles, it is the myth of recycling and I won’t harm the environment if I recycle.  So, now we find more and more disposable cups, plates and containers that are “biodegradable”, made from renewable resources or contain “recycled content”.

So instead of looking for products that have a longer life cycle and can be reused over and over again, we feel good about our “double latte with soy milk” served in a “sustainable” paper cup.  Yes, this is of course better than throwing away stereo foam and plastic cups, but it is not the answer…

breakfast at arenas del mar
It might be a bit more work to set a table like this for breakfast.  But the experience beats that of “fast food” served in paper that later gets thrown away.

At our hotels and eco lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua we highly discourage take out and when we do send food out with guests (i.e. for picnic lunches), we send reusable containers that the guests bring back after use.  Of course that is not quite as convenient and a bit more work, but it is more sustainable.  We are also limiting a revenue stream as takeout can be very popular for certain clients.

Another tough one in sustainable hospitality and management.  It is once again not all that easy to be “green”.  What is your experience with disposable dishware?  Are you already “numb” to your own habits?  Having a hard time finding alternatives?  Buying into the argument that a cup that can be “industrially composted” is not all the bad?

Let us know what you think…  [email protected].

Lapa Rios Wild Waterfall
Less trash and use of natural resources means more chance of a pristine environment like here at Lapa Rios Ecolodge on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.


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