Musings from Home

7 out of 10?

I am not a big radio listener anymore, but I do tend to have it on in the car when I’m driving around town. And on the rare occasion that I drive Emerald to school, we like to tune into a local station’s trivia contest. It’s fun for the three of us (Sapphire is usually in the car with us, too) to try to guess the answer. Sometimes (not very often) we even get it right.

Yesterday’s question really had us scratching our heads: On any given day, 7 out of 10 people do this at the dinner table? Our first thoughts were watch TV and say a blessing before eating. No and no. We continued to listen the entire way to school. More and more interesting guesses were called in: Talk about your day (we do this), chew with your mouth open (we try not to do this), text (forbidden in our household, but since Jim and I are the only ones with cell phones, not an issue). All of the guesses were incorrect.

After we dropped Emerald off at school, Sapphire and I continued to try to figure out the answer. Since no one was even coming close, the DJ gave a hint: It has to do with something you use. Sapphire and I were sure we had it: Put your napkin in your lap!! After the commercial break and a song or two, guessing resumed. The very next caller got it and I was shocked at the answer: Use paper plates.

WHAT??? We use paper plates for away-from-home picnics and sometimes for large birthday parties, but on any given day 7 out of 10 people use them?

I am naturally skeptical about statistics. According to whom? What’s the sample size? Who was polled (not names, but how widespread a group)? Etc. Etc. But assuming for a second that this is actually true, this is very disturbing to me. I don’t claim to be the biggest environmentalist or truly efficient in our use of resources, but I do try, and unnecessary waste bothers me a lot.

In fact, it bothered me all day yesterday and by this morning, I was still thinking about it. Is it true? Today, I did a little research. Many other radio stations across the country (which are probably on the same network as ours) ran the same question recently. One cited USA Today as the source and explained that 50% of Americans are trying to switch to paper plates. I did a quick search of the USA Today website and was unable to verify these statistics. I also searched the internet in general and was unable to find anything on the topic, so I still have no idea if it’s true or not.

My next step was to verify my belief that using paper plates uses up more resources than using reusable dinnerware. I read several reputable sites and found that while certain types of reusable dinnerware (like porcelain) take many more resources to produce than paper plates and they need to be washed, using more resources, the total still comes to far less than any plate you use once and throw away. And paper plates apparently cannot be recycled if they are considered “too soiled”.

So now I am on a mission to find out if this statistic is true and if it is, to urge people to reconsider. I know doing dishes is a pain, especially for those who do not have a dishwasher. And running a dishwasher seems to use up a lot of water (although in fact washing dishes by hand uses more). So some people may be switching to paper plates not just because of the convenience, but because they think they’re actually saving resources, but this is just not the case.

I am not much of a green crusader, but this is a very simple way to reduce our collective carbon footprint. Trying to reduce the number of dishes you use in a day to reduce the number of times you have to run your dishwasher (or the amount of time you have to run water to wash your dishes by hand) will help reduce your consumption of resources much more than switching to single-use plates. And you’ll have fewer dishes to wash. Win win.

Does anyone know whether or not this statistic is even close to being accurate? Have you switched to paper plates and if so, have I missed a rationale for doing so?

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Comments on: "7 out of 10?" (9)

  1. Wow. I can’t believe this could possibly be true. Sure, we use them when we order in pizza, sandwich lunches, and for bbq’s or outdoor parties but we hardly use them any other time.

  2. I actually said a prayer before getting out of bed this a.m. that there would be another Andrea post, since I enjoy them so! I don’t know if this puzzling statistic is true or not, but to me actual plates and the like are a big part of what makes home HOME, instead of just a house, if that makes sense. I’m not overly sentimental or materialistic; I don’t need fancy things or a million trinkets, but I do need a clean homey environment with pretty things, homey things, things that mean somethng to me. One time years ago while visiting my then MIL, I was shocked when she opened her cupboards and there was nothing in there but paper plates and bowls and even plastic cutlery. I can see paper napkins (wish I could break that habit) but she had not one actual piece of dishware. I don’t think she cooked very much either. She had gone thru her whole house and cleared everything out, if I recall correctly in the name of simplification and maybe non-materialism? It was creepy and impersonal and unwelcoming. Anyway, another big question this topic brought up to me is how many families even sit down to a meal together anymore? Forget about every day (although that is my hope and wish for every family) but even a few times a week? If paper plates somehow in your mind help you do that, then go ahead with my (begrudging) blessing I guess, but please please please make it a priority to sit down and have a daily meal and meaningful conversations with your family. From a burnt out former family therapist, you won’t be sorry.

  3. This is just weird. *Trying* to switch? How bizarre.

    Do you ever listen to the puzzle segment on NPR on Sunday mornings? I haven’t caught it recently, but I always love it when I do.

  4. Patricia Frederick said:

    Hmmmm…..I just finished reading a post about not judging others…

    • I did write those back-to-back didn’t I? I apologize that it turned out sounding so judgemental. I did not intend it to be so. I was really taken aback by that high of a number, from an environmental perspective, and I was truly trying to understand it, if the number is correct. It’s probably no worse than many other things people (including me) do, but it did surprise me. I’m sure people have their reasons. Becky makes a good point in her reply below. Which is a better environmental choice may depend on your area and which resource is in shorter supply.

  5. When my daughter was born, I looked into cloth vs. disposable diapers. And what I found was it all came down to resources of the area in which you lived. If water was an issue, then disposable was the better choice. If landfill space was an issue, then cloth was the way to go. I suppose you could look at the paper plate issue that way, although in the long run, it seems it would be cheaper to invest in dishes that aren’t paper.

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