Is it Better to Use Paper Plates or Wash Dishes?

There’s a constant desire to reduce our spending on household materials. So, when we find options that seem better and cheaper, we go for them. Of course, quality is also vital at this stage, so we opt for similar materials that offer different experiences.

Paper plates cost about $3 to $4 at any grocery store, and this cost covers about twenty to thirty plates. You may even get lucky enough to get better deals, as people sell these things in bulk on the internet. For some of the best deals, you’ll pay only a meager fee for packaging and shipping too.

So, in your pursuit to cut costs and achieve more sustainable living, you must aim at getting things right. That’s why you need this blog post – we’ll explore which option is environmentally friendlier between using paper plates or washing dishes after eating. If you’re also interested in knowing which option is cheaper, read on. We have loads of beneficial information for you!

Is it Better for the Environment to Use Paper Plates or Wash Dishes?

Even the most minute steps directed towards sustainable living are applaudable. Items like plates are among the most common household materials, which we use more often than not. Whether you’re a take-out enthusiast or cooked-food lover, you’ll still need plates.

Now, questions about the better option for the environment have been asked. There’s a broader desire to opt for the more environmentally friendly choice – whether it’s buying paper plates that’ll be disposed of after use or washing our dishes with a dishwasher or even using our hands.

Doing the dishes by hand if you live alone shouldn’t be a problem; after all, you’ll have fewer bowls and plates to worry about. However, the same can’t be said if you live in a large household.

When you’re determining the environmental impacts of these materials, you consider their carbon footprints, the cost, storage, disposal, and in this case, method of washing.

The carbon footprint extends to the manufacturing process, packaging, and transportation. The manufacturing process begins with chopping down a tree for paper plates, which isn’t always an environmentally conscious decision.

Packaging and transporting these plates don’t strain the environment – these materials come in the simplest packaging options.

There are many benefits of using paper plates. For one, they’re completely biodegradable and can also be composted. At the same time, you don’t need to wash them, thereby cutting back on energy costs.

However, these seemingly better alternatives also have their downsides. The production of paper plates results in the deforestation of about 4 billion trees every year. This is the general estimate for trees cut down to make paper generally, not plates alone.

So, even though the paper is made from natural resources that can be replanted, the process is more complicated of afforestation is more complicated.

While it depends on the species of trees, those that bear fruits may require between two and ten years to grow fully, while the more ancient ones take centuries. If we burn through more trees than we can grow, this may be detrimental to the environment at large; trees play a vital role in keeping the balance in the ecosystem.

On the other hand, let’s consider the effects of ceramic or plastic plates, as these are the conventional options for meals in the average household.

Now, plastic plates are a terrible idea for the environment. Right from their manufacturing process, they constitute a significant source of pollution, whether to the air, ozone layer, land, or water bodies.

Of course, you can use them for a long time; they’re pretty durable and unbreakable and can be washed many times without their quality getting affected.

However, they’re not a great option, as plastic contributes to 80 percent of the waste that ends up in our water bodies. At the same time, if they end up in our landfills, they release toxic materials during their decomposition process.

Again, we have ceramic plates that we can use repeatedly, but we’ll have to wash them. However, their carbon footprints have so far proven neutral to the environment. The production process for ceramic items requires a high temperature. Still, dozens of them can be manufactured at once, making energy consumption a fair one to the environment.

When they decompose, they become soil because that’s what they’re made from.

When you choose to wash dishes instead of using paper or plastic plates, you may be able to escape the cost of replenishing or paying for the latter items, but you may spend that amount on your energy bills instead.

Washing plates is a better option than burning through tons of paper or plastic plates, especially when you don’t live alone. You’ll be burning through too much paper, which will affect our trees.

Is it Cheaper to Buy Paper Plates or Wash Dishes?

While focusing on making the environment a better place, we should also consider its effect on our pockets. So, when you’re considering the cheaper option, bring all the factors to the table.

First, how much are paper plates? As we’ve already mentioned, you can get as twenty or thirty for $3 to $4. There are better deals on the internet, though; you can get as many as a thousand plates for just $30.

Now, if you live with a family of four, you expect to eat all three meals daily, which leaves you consuming as many as twelve plates each day. You’ll burn through your plates almost at the end of the third month.

On the other hand, investing in ceramic plates is much cheaper. Depending on your personal preference and budget, you can spend anywhere between $10 to $500 on a set of these plates. There’ll, however, be enough for you and the people living with you.

However, the cost of these plates isn’t the only factor we’ll consider. Since we’re considering washing them, we’ll likely be using a dishwasher, which uses both water and electricity. So, you have to consider your energy bills.

If the bills are favorable, then washing dishes is a better option. The dishwasher is usually large enough to contain many plates, and you can do the dishes once or twice a day to cut back on costs.

In the real sense of it, it’s better to wash dishes. You can spend as low as $10 to get a good set of plates that you may not have to replace for a long time. You’ll only worry about your energy bills, which may not get racked up if you don’t use your dishwasher too often.

While using paper plates is also a cheap option, it’s not great for the environment. If everyone switches to this, it puts a severe strain on our trees and can lead to severe deforestation.

Is Dishwashing Better than Handwashing?

Dishes are items that we use every day in the home. Whether you’re enjoying a bowl of your favorite cereal or some ramen, you’ll need a dish.

We’ll have to wash our dishes for each meal, even if it isn’t immediately. You can compile and clean them when the day ends or as a part of your morning chores. Either way, you’ll still be using water and energy.

Now, we have many favorite things about doing the dishes with a dishwasher, and one of our them is that it saves stress. It’s also a faster and more efficient option, one that consumes about ten times less water than you’ll use when washing the dishes with your hands.

So, by opting for a dishwasher instead of manually doing the dishes, you’re not only introducing ease and comfort into your home but will also be significantly cutting back on your energy bills.

How Long Does It Take for Paper Plates to Decompose?

There are some cases where using paper plates may be an eco-friendlier idea. For instance, when you host an event, buying a pack of plates with1 1,000 pieces for $30 may save you more money as opposed to using ceramic plates that you’ll have to use a dishwasher to clean.

Paper plates are used once and disposed of. Paper is biodegradable, so there are no environmental concerns in this regard. It’s made from trees, which are natural resources.

Put paper plates under the perfect conditions, and they’ll break down within a short time, usually anywhere between 40 and 180 days. Some of the factors that need to be present include moisture, oxygen, microorganisms, and the right temperature.

Recycling paper plates is not an option because we use them to eat. As such, when we’re ready to dispose of them, there’ll be food residues that would contaminate the other items in a recycling bin if these plates somehow find their way in.

However, since paper plates are biodegradable, composting them is an excellent idea even when these items have been used for dry or sticky foods.

To prevent pests from uprooting your compost pile, it’s best to put paper plates that contain meat, grease, or dairy residues in the middle of the compost bin, where the smell won’t be easily detectable.

The paper breaks down fast when you introduce enough water to it. So, for a hasty decomposition process, you can tear the paper plates into smaller pieces, add some water, and compost it.

You can also put it in the compost bin for your community.

Is it Better to Use Paper or Plastic Plates?

Plastic plates are another disposable option, but these can be reused a couple of times. So, consumers generally consider paper and plastic plates as close substitutes. However, one option is better for the environment and your pocket too.

First, the paper plate is made from paper, which results in deforestation, but leaves less harmful impacts than the rigorous manufacturing process and constant pollution plastics. We also need to consider biodegradation – paper plates will break down within weeks, but plastic options can last several decades to centuries before it eventually breaks down.

Aside from the difference between the time spent on landfills, the decomposition processes for plastic and paper plates are significantly different. The latter option is quite bad; it releases toxins and leaves microplastics behind when it finally breaks down. Plastic plates can also find their way to our water bodies, threatening aquatic creatures.

On the other hand, paper plates leave no noticeable effect on the environment besides providing nutrients during and after decomposition.

There’s also the cost factor – paper plates are cheaper than plastic plates.


We should never overlook the effects of our lifestyle habits on the environment. An activity as minor as switching to washing your dishes can be your own way of contributing to the movement to protect our environment.

Whether we’ll be choosing paper plates or ceramic ones, let’s consider our lifestyle’s impact on the environment. Weigh both options and pick the one that best favors the ecosystem.

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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.