Environmentally Questionable – Disposable Dining Ware Per Dollar List

Environmental Ethical Dilemma

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about this information. It seemed replacing your dining ware(forks, spoons, utensils, cups, plates, bowls) with plastic or disposable was clearly the time efficient solution. It isn’t responsible to release an article encouraging people to increase their waste.

It sparked us to looked deep for a solution, which we were shocked to find. It wasnt ‘green’ disposable, as it was was 3-4 times more expensive. And really? How ‘green’ is something its manufactured and shipped? Disposable dining ware is affordable but the time savings didnt add up.

I’ll post the raw data without commentary for informational purposes, but continue reading to see our surprising conclusion and recommendation.

dspoons

dplates

cups2

Download As Excel File

Time Study Of Dishes

We did a Timestudy on loading and unloading the dishes vs disposable. Pretty basic, but we wanted to put real numbers with tasks. We found:

Silverware is bought once. Disposable plates and utensils are bought a few times a year, adding a few minutes at the grocery store.

Daily transportation of dining ware and food are identical in steps/timing.

After use at the dining room table, the dishes must be moved to the trash or dishwasher. Considering the dishwasher and garbage are pretty close to each other. Loading into a dishwasher takes negligible additional time.

Note: This may fail if the dishwasher is full, causing rework.

When cleaned, the time putting dishes away is noteworthy

3 loads of dishes later and a weirded out friend on a Friday night, I have a good range of data regarding the time it takes to unload dishes.

  • It takes average 2.8 s per meal to put away a clean plate.
  • It takes average 3 s per meal to put away a fork/knife/spoon
  • It takes average 6 s per meal to put away a cup
  • A Wok took 75 seconds to hand clean
  • Odd objects took minimum 6 seconds and upwards of 24 due to distant storage locations or failure to clean.

To replace all your forks, spoons, plates, with disposable you would save:

1 Fork + 1 Plate = ~6s/meal

6s/meal * 3 meals/day = 18s/day

18s/day * 365 days/year = 2190 s =

109.5 minutes/year

109 minutes a year per person. But it takes more than 18 seconds a day to do dishes, where does that come from?

The painful part of dishes arent the silverware or plates, its the odd objects. Stacking Tupperware, building to-go mugs, and putting away single objects away are time heavy.

See why plates are so much faster than the odd Glass Pie Pan?
See why plates are so much faster than the odd Glass Pie Pan?

Having to walk across your kitchen to put something away takes seconds going there, and seconds going back. I could put away 4 meals worth of plates in the time it takes me to put away a special appliance.

Comparing only disposable to dishwashed cups, forks, spoons, bowls, and plates we can find out

The Math – Should you replace your silverware with disposable?

From above, 18s a day/person = 109min/year

109 min/yr = 1.8 hrs/year

$120 for 1 year all disposable dining ware

$120/1.8 hrs = $66/hour luxury

If you are making less than 66$/hour, its a luxury to use disposable dishware.

From the original table it only costs 120$/yr to use low cost disposable dishware. ~400 dollars for the ‘green’ alternative($220/hr).

A few people have pointed out this is only the price mathematics, using this much disposable stuff might cause an environmental disaster. Regardless, disposable forks seems expensive for the time you actually save, I’ll let you use the data make your own decisions.

Final Thoughts + Tips

The biggest surprise to me, was how quick plates and forks were to put away and take out of the dishwasher. The big lesson learned was seeing how long it took to clean or put away a unique object. Pareto rule, 80% of the time comes from 20% of the dishes.

  1. Reduce the number of times you bend and lift(pick up) items, try to get many in. That action can take up to 60% of the time doing dishes.
  2. You are greatly time rewarded if the dishwasher is clean, cups, forks, spoons can all go straight into it. Eliminating rework time
  3. Pots and pans that finished cooking should be cleaned right away. If that isnt possible- run warm water in the pot, thank yourself later.
  4. Clean while you cook – when you are waiting around for things to get hot, put a few away
  5. If you are going to splurge, I recommend cups to save time. It takes 6s to put away a cup, double the time saved over a plate/fork.

I wont be switching to disposable any time soon, however I’ll be looking to move our oven pans and wok closer to the action.

Can you move anything in your kitchen to reduce walking distances? Look around and think about it when you are cooking or doing the dishes. If you can find a way to save 30s a day, it would add up to be more than 150 hours of your life. Thats like 4 weeks paid vacation! Efficiency!

If you want me to look into kitchen or home time-studies or ergonomics comment below.

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5 thoughts on “Environmentally Questionable – Disposable Dining Ware Per Dollar List

  • March 20, 2017 at 2:51 pm
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    Maybe I missed it, but what about the cost of running the dishwasher (or buying a dishwasher and dishes for that matter)? It would seem those are not negligible expenses. Do you have an idea for the payback period?

    Reply
    • March 20, 2017 at 2:53 pm
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      Good point!

      I have to update this article with Costco prices. I’ll factor in running the water and amortization of the dishwasher.

      Reply
      • April 25, 2017 at 5:04 pm
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        That was my question also, from a cost perspective. Great analysis though, I love your site!

        Reply
  • May 24, 2017 at 6:15 pm
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    I wonder how much cost of water and electricity/gas savings one could achieve with the disposables as well? I’d still never do it due to environmental impact, but as an academic exercise I’m curious. Just discovered the site today and am eating it up–thanks for all your time and work in sharing!

    Reply
    • May 24, 2017 at 6:18 pm
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      I was thinking about doing a follow up to this article with water data and a few more trials.

      Protein per second article may gather similar data since I’m including clean up. Stay tuned, I genuinely want to get the details and won’t stop until I figure it out!

      Reply

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