The following post is written by Logan Mossbarger, a student majoring in Sustainable Materials and Technology. Logan is currently an intern with the NC State Waste Reduction and Recycling Office.
Restaurants are filling more takeout orders due to COVID-19 and that creates more plastic waste, particularly cutlery.
Utensils are one of the most mismanaged plastic items in use for a couple reasons: shape and composition. Like straws, plastic utensils have a unique shape that makes it hard for recycling facilities to sort. They are difficult to remove by hand amid other materials and often end up mixed with paper loads or on the floor of the recycling facility.
Cutlery is also made out of many different types of plastics, which makes it hard to recycle. When sorting recyclables, it is impossible to tell if the utensil is a polystyrene (#6), polypropylene (#5 plastic), PET (#1 plastic) or a combination of the three. The only consistency about the materials is that they are made out of crude oils.
Because of these reasons, the only way to dispose of plastic utensils is by landfill or incineration, which increases greenhouse gas emissions. But many plastic utensils don’t make it there and instead collect in our waterways and oceans. For example, a 2018 Ocean Conservancy beach clean-up collected more than 1.9 million plastic forks, knives, and spoons.
You can be part of the solution by opting out of disposable cutlery when ordering takeout from a restaurant. Let them know on the phone or, if using an online platform, by entering specific instructions declining single-use utensils. If you’re on the go, bring your own cutlery. Simply pack a fork or chopsticks inside your bag and roll it up in a cloth to keep it clean.
With plastic utensils, convenience comes at a cost. Let’s make a pact to cut out plastic cutlery. Will you join me in saying no to plastic utensils?