Can You Recycle Paper Plates? (and How to Recycle)

As someone who eats out of the traditional plastic or ceramic plates, you might ask, what is a paper plate.  Well, it’s simple, paper plates are plates made out of trees. Usually, they come crafted to look like a plate. But as the name suggests, it comprises of paper.

However, mostly because it comprises of paper, people usually consider recycling them. While it’s not a bad idea to recycle paper materials, paper plates are a different story entirely.

I bet you’re asking what this all about. Don’t worry. We’ll tell you more. Here, we’ll address the controversy as to whether paper plates are recyclable. Then, we’ll address other similarly important issues.

Let’s go.

Are Paper Plates Recyclable?

Well, unto our million-dollar question, can you recycle your paper plates. Well, the answer is both a yes and no. While you’re most likely confused, relax. Let us explain further.

The fact is that you can recycle some forms of paper plates. Usually, this involves paper plates that aren’t contaminated. For instance, the plates that you use for crafts.

Well, the general rule is that for you to be able to recycle your paper plate, it must be free from contamination. That is, there’s no food residue on it.

However, when it comes to paper plates that you have used as a paper plate. That is, once you have used them to eat, you cannot recycle them. The reason is simple. The recycling process cannot possibly separate the grease, waste, and oil residue from the paper.

As such, if you were to go through with the recycling process, you’ll probably get a mess. And of course, that would be a complete waste of money, energy, and effort. Even worse, mixing it with other suitable papers will result in damage to them too.

So, if you’ve used your paper plate to eat, then it’s a no. It would be best to get the recycling idea of your head. Your best option is to dispose of them in another environmentally friendly manner.

How Do You Recycle Paper Plates?

Well, you might rush to think about how do you recycle paper plates is irrelevant when it’s not recyclable. That’s not the case. As we already stated, you can recycle paper plates without contamination.

So, are you trying to figure out what this recycling process involves? That’s where we come in. Here’s a summary of the recycling process for neat paper plates.

Collection & Transportation

At this point, you accumulate the clean paper plates and transport them to the recycling plant.


At this stage, the paper plates get sorted. This would involve removing contaminated paper plates that have found a way into the bundle.


At this stage, the paper plate gets turned into pulp. Usually, this process involves the use of various chemicals and water.


At this stage, all unwanted objects get removed from the pulp. Usually, this gets achieved by pushing the pulp into screens.


At this stage, the various ink and adhesive that comprises the paper plate get removed. However, this doesn’t include grease. You will recall that you cannot recycle contaminated paper plates.


At this stage, the paper receives various chemicals to ensure it takes a white color. Usually, hydrogen peroxide does the trick.


At this stage, the now clean pulped gets rolled and dried, ready to be cut into sizes and shapes.

In case you’re looking to understand this process in detail, you can check out our article on paper recycling here.

Are Paper Plates Bad for the Environment?

If you’re into paper plates, and you’re thinking yes or no environment-wise, you’re at the right place. We’ll tell you what your choice of paper plates does to the environment, good or bad.

Well, the fact is that if you were to pick between paper plates and plastic plates, then paper plates become all good. This is because of the greater environmental damage that plastic causes.

However, this already points in one direction. And that’s that paper plates causes some form of environmental damage too. Well, frankly speaking, anything which causes some form of environmental damage cannot be good for the environment,

So, yes, paper plates are indeed bad for the environment. So that you understand, here are some impacts of paper plates. And of course, how it turns out to be bad for the environment.

1. Deforestation

The fact that they are called paper plates shows that they are plates made out of paper. And since paper comes from trees, the logic explains itself. More paper plates mean more tree felling.

Well, more tree felling means deforestation. And in turn, deforestation means more threats to our environment.

2. Destruction of the Ecosystem

Well, this necessary flows from the first point above. Our ecosystem comprises prominently of plants and animals. Well, the more trees we kill for paper plates, means the more part of our ecosystem that we ruin.

In fact, the effects are far-reaching. Animals lose their habitats, and little plants die from lack of protection from direct sunlight. Our supply of oxygen continues to decline rapidly. Even worse, we become more susceptible to erosion and strong winds.

Without a doubt, paper plates are not in the interest of our environment.

3. Pollution

It’s a no brainer that heavy machines and equipment are useful to make paper plates. These machines let out heavy fumes and various gases. In turn, this causes air pollution and endanger the lives of people in society.

Well, there’s no doubt that anything that pollutes our environment cannot be good for it.

4. You Cannot Recycle them

Well, as long as you use them to eat, you cannot recycle paper plates. And the fact that we cannot mean that they automatically belong to the dust bin and then into landfills. Typically, they are then left there to decompose, which may not even happen for a while.

Through this process, they can then seep into water bodies, exude toxic fumes, and contaminate the environment. Well, it’s settled, paper plates are extremely dangerous to our environment.

Are Paper Plates Biodegradable?

Although paper plates are quite harmful, they are biodegradable. Well, don’t let that confuse you. It simply means that they are capable of decaying to allow for valuable nutrients into the earth.

Well, in case you’re in doubt, you only need to remember that paper is from trees. And trees represent an organic material that’s fully biodegradable.

So, yes, paper plants are fully biodegradable. As such, you can easily put them to use for a variety of purposes that benefits the soil.

However, while this is the general rule, some paper plates are exempted from this notion. Usually, paper plates coated with plastic designs to prevent water from destroying them aren’t degradable.

Even if they were, it takes too much time. You shouldn’t be surprised. The coating is to prevent damage. And it continues to do that even when it comes biodegradability.

Can You Compost Paper Plates?

Now, since you know paper plates are biodegradable, you’ve another question. You’re thinking, can I compost paper plates. Well, flowing from above, you can.

And this is whether it’s a do it by yourself action or you’re contracting it out. In fact, this is one good use you can put your paper plates too since you can’t recycle contaminated paper plates. The great thing is that you can do this for almost all forms of paper.

So, before filling the next landfill, remember this. You can compost your paper plates. And, as such, use them to enrich your garden flowers and vegetables.

How Long Does It Take for Paper Plates to Decompose?

Next, you might be curious about how long it will take you to get this done. That is, how much time does it take for your paper plates to decompose. Well, here’s what you know.

Paper plates typically require a little amount of time to decompose. And that’s why they are so beneficial when it comes to composting. As long as you place them under the right weather, you can easily do this within a few months.

So, if you’re looking to compost paper plates, put this in mind. It takes about 180 days to decompose. However, in some cases, it can take about 45 to 60 days, depending on some factors.

Well, that’s for the benefit of your plant. In case you’re looking for how long it takes to decompose fully. According to the New York City Department, it generally takes 5 years for paper plates to decompose.

In Conclusion

Although you can recycle your paper plates, this only applies when you have not used them. It’s simple. As soon as you use them, and they get in contact with grease and other contamination, it becomes impossible for you to recycle them.

However, you can always try out composting. This way, you can put them to effective use for your vegetable and in your garden. You’ll be sure to enjoy it as they decompose quite fast and come with loads of benefits to your plant.


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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.