To Paper or To Plate: That’s the Question

We were packing boxes to send to missionaries and behind us, at another table, was a Vera-type-gal, a micro-manager of the Universe.  She was organizing the Ladies’ for an upcoming reception, “And of course, we must use the nice plates, and the good glasses.  Nancy Sue will you iron the tablecloths and napkins?”

Heavens to mergatroid. Poor Nancy Sue  I thought.  I haven’t used my iron in…well, let’s just say I think it still works. Last time I used it was to create melted crayon crafts. I leaned over to my packing partner and whispered, “That’s a lot of frou-frou.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s why I never volunteer for those things.”

Now obviously, I was born without a Martha Stewart gene, but it got me thinking, with all the coffee hours, receptions, mid-week suppers, etc., we’d get more volunteers if we’d use disposables. So what’s the better choice? Hence…


Being frugal Lutherans, most of our matched plates and flatware came from saving boxtops. (Everyone keep eating…we need 10 more sets of service.)

Ceramic/Glass Benefit

  • Their production and delivery have a carbon foot print, but it’s a one-time thing.
  • They have to be washed. (Blah…like we all don’t have enough washing in our lives). But according to dishwashers have become more energy and water efficient. (Obviously they’ve never watched the youth wash dishes).  Of course they caution if you run the dishwasher with only a cup and a spoon inside, it’s not too cost-effective, but the nature of most Lutherans is to fill that machine up until it looks like a steam-punk contraption. We know how to get the most soap out of a buck.
  • The threat of bacteria spreading is most likely not an issue unless we’re experiencing a horrible disease like cholera or maybe contamination by zombies.  Basic hygiene still applies.

Paper Plate Benefit

  • Disposable. No clean up. Hooray. But…here comes the rain on my dancing-dish parade…we’ll be buying them again and again. More production, transportation and bigger carbon footprint.
  • So, we’ll just recycle, yes?  No, not really. Usually soiled plates can’t be recycled and not all grades of plastic can be recycled. “Even if your community could recycle each and every disposable fork or cup,” says Leon Kaye of GreenGoPost, “they still require energy–and water–to create new batches of paper or plastic goods.”  And then there’s the bags of garbage after an event, percolating gas and goop like the eggs in an Alien movie.

So my lazy bones stand corrected. Ceramic and metal flatware is the winner.

It’s wise stewardship for money, attitude, and planet. “Think single purchase, not single use,” says Kaye.

Okay…I may volunteer for clean-up, but I’m still not ironing.

How has your church or organization solved the problem?

Thanks to Leon Kaye, editor and founder of Check it out for more info.

16 thoughts on “To Paper or To Plate: That’s the Question

  1. The most delightful dinners at our church were done on ceramic plates. Usually for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Valentines Day. But there was a method to using that many plates and settings. Here’s how it worked…

    The ladies volunteered in small groups to set a table. It was really a sort of contest between them to see who could make the most lavish setting. So, everything on the table belonged to the volunteer(s)! We used to have some of the most beautiful events and never a table that looked the same. We all had a good time, and it helped for mixing too, because of course everyone wanted to get round to visit and to admire all the loveliness. (Miss my old church friends!!!)

    Thank you for visiting me today! ~ Lynda

    • Lynda…this is just brilliant. Thanks for sharing this here. That’s what it’s all about. If one of us have a problem, there’s surely some group, church, organization who’s figured out a solution. Thanks for sharing such a great idea.

  2. Thanks for visiting me and sharing your root canal saga! My dentist called in his college roommate, an endodontist, who said he’s only seen maybe 5 messes like min in 20 years. I told him I was glad to provide amusement, but maybe next time the amusement could be provided through my baking skills?

    I really dislike paper plates, but sometimes they’re necessary. However….ironing the tablecloths? That’s what wash and wear is for! I have a friend with a summer cottage on a lake, which has been in his family about 100 years. Most summer weekends they have 20 to 40 people there, and Greg prides himself on having real plates, with no more than 3 alike. He likes to pick up orphan plates at garage sales, flea markets, whatever, and then he has the added bonus of other slobs not dropping their paper goods all over the ground. A wash station is set up next to the grill, and people are shamed into washing their own dishes. Sadly, most people aren’t as forward as Greg in demanding that everyone behave correctly.

  3. We use disposable for the “take aways”, but real china and glass for the service dishes. Real flatware for dipping out food, but plastic for the guests to use. With a congregation topping 1600 we just would never be able to have enough tableware to serve everyone on “real” plates.

    I’m ALWAYS on wash up crew. I LOVE washing dishes.

  4. Kris,

    It was lovely to have you drop in at LAWN TEA today—your comment was most appreciated, in thanks and in content. I’ve just been delving into your archives, enjoying your take on the Good Church Ladies phenomenon—I blog about them often, in little vignettes and memories of all my growing-up years in the Deep South.

    I DO love a beautifully-set table, and my DH has given me the title “Dish Junkie,” for I think right now I could set a table for a good-sized Church gathering with the GOOD plates, collected from Goodwill and yard sales and other little one-or-a-dozen spote. But also right now, the pass-through from kitchen to breakfast table is stacked with several sizes of paper plates and bowls, left from a week’s visit from three GRANDS, with another right here in town with us often.

    Three meals and snacks and snacks and snacks and cereal-at-beditme called for extreme measures in the dish category—I see these children so seldom, and I just CAN’T spent any of that precious time at the sink. In fact several years ago at a family funeral, I’d volunteered to take over kitchen dury, leaving all the local relatives to entertain their own GRANDS and and children and see to all the arrangements. And THEN I fumed for the several hours I spent at THAT sink, with my own little ones, seldom seen, in another room playing with folks who were practically strangers to them. But I WAS committed. (Not quite Banner and Blade).

    And this heat makes me lazy, anyway.

    So glad to have you visit, and hope you’ll drop in again soon.


    PS My NOOK and I are off to B&N as soon as THESE dishes are finished!

  5. Plates and silver and glass make the most sense, and feel best to use. I still go to paper for Thanksgiving and Christmas for big family get togethers though (because of the layout of my home, If I had a kitchen I could tuck things into and do later or enough room for an assembly line of washing and drying….

    Save that iron though – collect thifted old tableclothes that don’t wrinkle! Win for the environ and for your iron.

    • Dear Helen, following your lead to collect vintage items, I’ve saved all my irons and my grandmother’s irons. They make good doorstops. I wish I’d use my old table cloths, but I’m too lazy to iron them.

  6. We have a sort of three-step program. During Lent, we have a soup supper every Wednesday, and we use ceramic plates under styrofoam bowls, which are too flimsy to use alone. For most church dinners we do use the ceramic plates – and the dishwasher – but for things where no one wants to hang around (Funeral receptions, for instance) we have gotten some lovely plastic plates at the wholesale clubs; the plates are white, with a grey border that resembles silver. Very classy. For coffee hour, we use the “really good white plates” – paper napkins!

  7. I agree, and I have to admit, I love disposables, but…there is that stewardhship thing to consider. You know…taking care of the planet and all. But then someone has to volunteer to do it…so until it’s a priority for folks, then you’ve found a solution. And you’re so nice…not to name names.

  8. Well, when I was involved at all with this sort of thing, the non-event use of the ceramic/metal, followed by leaving them in the kitchen unwashed (I won’t name names…) was a major annoyance. So disposables were purchased and kept in stock. It was a happy solution.

    • I like this solution, but then…I’m lazy. A true, diligent steward, I think would roll up their sleeves, dive into the dishwater and rinse those plates and put them in the dishwasher. Unfortunately, it’s usually the same persons staying late everytime, making the commitment and getting burned out. So disposables become the answer to burn out.

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