Is plastic Silverware recyclable?

As the name suggests, plastic silverware refers to utensils such as knives, spoons, and forks which are made of plastic. Usually these silverware are single-use items, which are used in the absence of regular utensils. 

In this article, I will discuss if plastic silverware is recyclable or not. I will also discuss why it is very difficult to recycle plastic silverware, why it is most often rejected by recycling companies, and how we can reduce our plastic silverware use. 

Another topic I will delve into is the impact these plastics have on the environment and are some ways to reuse the plastic silverware we already have sitting in our cupboards. 

Is plastic silverware recyclable? 

In most cases, no. Plastic silverware is very rarely recycled. Plastic silverware has become very widely used over the past few years. Partly due to the Covid-19 outbreak, single-use plastic use has sky-rocketed globally. 

Most restaurants now offer single-use cutlery for takeaways. The dark underbelly of this boom in plastic cutlery use is that it’s filling up our landfills. There are serious environmental consequences for the small convenience of not having to wash the dishes that we so enjoy. 

The increase in plastic silverware use in the past few years: 

For the past two years, the world has been explicitly ravaged by Covid-19. A much more implicit plague that has been ravaging the environment, however, is single-use plastics. 

We have all been ordering in more often than before, and for some mysterious reason, the restaurants have convinced us that we need not wash any dishes or cutlery. They have it all covered. 

Speaking from personal experience, during my time in Ankara, few restaurants cared if I explicitly asked to not be sent the plastic fork and knife. They indiscriminately put a pack in each bag, my concern for the environment was hardly of importance. 

This has been the case for most countries, plastic silverware is cheap and convenient, this makes it a feasible alternative to silverware which needs to be washed between uses, and restaurants cannot afford to give them away with every take-out. 

The spike in plastic cutlery use has brought devastating effects to the environment, not only are they filling up the landfills, they are ending up in the oceans due to improper disposal. The consequences are dire and we need to make a concerted effort to minimize the use of single-use plastics. 

Why is plastic silverware so hard to recycle? 

Plastic utensils are usually too small for most recycling plants to work with. That is primarily because these utensils are too small to be sorted by the machine and fall through the cracks and cause troubles in the recycling apparatus. Which is why most plants don’t accept plastic cutlery for recycling. 

Plastic silverware is made of different grades of plastics in different factories. The ones that are made of plastic #1 and #2 are recyclable. However, plastic cutlery made of plastics #3 and onwards are not commonly recycled and are thrown out with the trash. 

Since plastic silverware is made with all types of plastic it’s even harder to sort them as workers have to sift through tons of trash to separate the silverware by plastic-type. 

If the consumers are aware of the plastic type the silverware is made of and responsibly dispose of them in the appropriate curbside bins for specific plastic, then there is a high chance the cutlery will be recycled. However, the size of these materials is a genuine issue which is why most cities encourage single-use plastic like these to be thrown in the trash instead. 

Why do we need plastic silverware? 

Plastic silverware can be of use if you’re throwing an outdoor party for your friends and family and you don’t want to spend half your day washing dishes. However, there are modern offices where office-sanctioned lunches use tons of plastic cutlery every single day. 

That’s a lot of plastic! Many workplaces give away office-sanctioned lunches to save money, they spend a fraction of their money buying lunch for their workers, in return they’re workers complain less about getting infrequent raises. It seems like a win-win for employees and the employer. The only loser here is the environment. 

All that disposable waste surely piles up and ends up one way or another into the great Pacific garbage patch. Some may turn up in a lesser-known local aquatic garbage patch or a landfill. 

Restaurants provide plastic cutlery with home delivery. Why would anyone need them in their own home? Is convenience that important to us? 

How to reduce plastic silverware use:

Carrying a set of reusable utensils along with us wherever we go reduces the use of single-use plastic drastically. In the United States, 40 billion plastic silverware are thrown into landfills every year. That is an unimaginable amount of plastic waste which can easily be bypassed if we are more mindful of our consumption habits. 

UberEats and other home delivery apps now have the option to opt out of getting plastic silverware, if you have this in your region, please make sure you opt out. 

We all need to make changes to our habits at the grassroots level to make long-lasting positive impacts on the environment. 

Effects of mass-consumption of plastic silverware on the environment:

Now, what are these devastating effects I am trying to warn you about? 

The build-up of plastic silverware in the oceans can cause the following problems: 

  • A lot of marine tourism relies on clean shores and oceans, which is becoming harder and harder as the use of single-use plastics rises. Most beaches, especially in the developing world, are accumulating plastic waste. This deters tourists from picking these places as vacation spots.
  • Marine life often ingests plastic thinking its food, this is harmful as plastics build up in their bodies and can be passed along the food chain. Larger plastics can physically hurt aquatic creatures.
  • Microplastics are all over the Earth’s oceans thanks to the insurmountable amounts of garbage we dump into the oceans. These microplastics are consumed by fish that we eventually eat. There is research that shows that the toxic chemicals in the plastic can be carcinogenic in humans.

Besides the negative effects it has on aquatic life and our food chain, plastic silverware also contributes to global warming.  The plastic that ends up in landfills is mostly incinerated. This process releases a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere. 

Whichever way we look at it, plastic silverware plays a part in polluting marine life, worsening our health, and global warming.

What to do with the box of plastic silverware in your cupboard? 

I’m sure at this point you are wondering what you should do with the pile of plastic silverware you have accumulated in your kitchen cupboard. If you don’t have any, that’s great! But if you do, I have a few suggestions. 

  • Use, wash and reuse for as long as you can.
  • Find out what type of plastic they are made of and if your local recycling center accepts plastic silverware.
  • Save them for an outdoor event like a bbq.
  • Find creative ways to repurpose them. You can use the handles of the cutlery to make windchimes. Or maybe a little dollhouse?
  • You can donate them to a homeless shelter near you, there is always a need for cutlery there.
  • Some companies collect plastic waste and use them to manufacture everyday items like clothes, shoes, and even bricks. Find out if there are any near you, you can always donate your cutleries there.

There are many other creative ways you can repurpose plastic utensils, your imagination is the limit.

Conclusion: 

In this article, I discussed if plastic silverware is recyclable or not. I also discussed why it is very difficult to recycle plastic silverware, why it is most often rejected by recycling companies, and how we can reduce our plastic silverware use. Another topic I delved into was, the impact these plastics have on the environment and some ways to reuse the plastic silverware we already have sitting in our cupboards. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is plastic silverware recyclable?

How do you recycle unused plastic silverware? 

Check with your municipality, if they accept plastic silverware, drop them in the bin. However, in most cases, these materials aren’t recycled, in which case you can either reuse them, repurpose them or donate them. 

Why is plastic silverware not recyclable?

These materials are rarely recycled. The reason for this is their size, they are too small for the sorting machines in the recycling factories. The other issue is these are made by different types of plastics and thus are very hard to sort by hand as well, mainly due to their size and quantity. 

Can black plastic utensils be recycled? 

No. Due to their color, they cannot be detected by the infrared scanners in the recycling machines.

Can plastic silverware be recycled in the UK?

As things stand, no. They are too small for detection by the machines and the UK and the EU are attempting to phase them out of use. 

What are plastic silverware made of? 

Plastic silverware is made of plastic types, 1-7. Unfortunately, there is no consensus on which type of plastic should be used to make them. Thus different factories make them with different types of plastic polymers.

How to dispose of plastic silverware? 

The proper way to dispose of plastic silverware is to throw them in the general garbage. 

References: 

  1. Recyclepedia | Can I recycle plastic cutlery?. (2021). Retrieved 30 November 2021, from https://recyclecoach.com/recyclepedia/plastic-cutlery/
  2. Can plastic forks and plates be recycled? – CNN.com. (2021). Retrieved 30 November 2021, from http://edition.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/06/22/mnn.plastic.forks.recycle/index.html
  3. Plastic Utensils Go in the Trash – Stockton Recycles. (2021). Retrieved 30 November 2021, from https://stocktonrecycles.com/plastic-utensils-go-in-the-trash/
  4. Can You Recycle Plastic Silverware. (2021). Retrieved 30 November 2021, from https://simplyecostore.com/blogs/news/can-you-recycle-plastic-silverware
  5. Plastic Utensils – San Jose Recycles. (2021). Retrieved 30 November 2021, from https://sanjoserecycles.org/guide/plastic-utensils/
  6. Can Plastic Forks and Plates Be Recycled?. (2021). Retrieved 30 November 2021, from https://www.treehugger.com/can-plastic-forks-and-plates-be-recycled-4864005
  7. Disposable cutlery | Recycle Now. (2021). Retrieved 30 November 2021, from https://www.recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with/disposable-cutlery
  8. Can You Recycle Plastic Cutlery? (And Is It Biodegradable?) – Conserve Energy Future. (2021). Retrieved 30 November 2021, from https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/can-you-recycle-plastic-cutlery.php
  9. The plastic pandemic: Single-use plastics pile up as Covid-19 delays ban. (2021). Retrieved 30 November 2021, from https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2021/04/21/the-plastic-pandemic-single-use-plastics-pile-up-as-covid-19-delays-ban
  10. Tenenbaum, L. (2021). Plastic Cutlery Is Terrible For The Environment And We Don’t Need To Have It Delivered. Retrieved 30 November 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauratenenbaum/2019/07/16/plastic-cutlery-is-terrible-for-the-environment-and-we-dont-need-to-have-it-delivered/?sh=12461cc14019

What was missing from this post which could have made it better?

Leave a Comment