Michael Tanguay

By: Michael Tanguay on May 16th, 2019

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Comparing Different Types of Disposable Cutlery

Choosing the right type of cutlery is important whether you are looking to make a positive impression on your guests or are trying to make a difference in the environment.

Disposable cutlery is available in several different material types.

Selecting the cutlery to best fit your business will depend on the food you are serving, environmental goals, and your budget.

Here’s a quick overview of the different types of disposable cutlery:

Material Type Density  Disposal  Heat Tolerance  From Least to Most Expensive 

Polyproylene

(Plastic Number 5)

Available in: 
Light Weight 
Medium Weight 
Heavy Weight 

Single Use 

Recyclable**

Up to 250°F*

$

 

 

$$$$

Polystyrene 

(Plastic Number 6)

Available in: 
Light Weight 
Medium Weight 
Heavy Weight 

Single Use 

Recyclable**

Up to 180°F*
Plant Starch Material (PSM) Varies by Manufacturer Single Use  Up to 200°F*
CPLA Available in: 
Light Weight 
Medium Weight 
Heavy Weight 

Single Use 

Compostable***

Up to 185°F*
Molded Fiber  Varies by Manufacturer

Single Use

Compostable***

Up to 250°F*
Bamboo  Varies by Manufacturer

Single Use 

Compostable***

Up to 158°F*
Wood Varies by Manufacturer

Single Use 

Compostable

Up to 200°F*
*Actual tolerance may vary by manufacturer and material.
**Before disposal of any product, check with your commercial hauler to confirm that they are accepting these products in your area. Disposal options for each resin code vary by state and facility.
***Certified compostable in commercial facilities.


Depending on your business' needs, wants, and budget, each type of cutlery material can provide your business with advantages or disadvantages.

Plastic Disposable Cutlery

The most common type of disposable cutlery is made of plastic. Plastic cutlery is made from either polypropylene or polystyrene.

Polypropylene

Advantages:

Polypropylene is the cheapest Bendable Polypropylene Fork. JPGdisposable cutlery option.

Polypropylene is the most flexible plastic cutlery option. It can withstand the most twisting and bending before breaking.

Polypropylene has a heat tolerance of 250℉* before distortion.

Polypropylene cutlery is available in light weight, medium weight, and heavy weight, as well as various lengths and sizes.

Disadvantages:

Polypropylene is recyclable, but acceptance will vary by state and facility. Before disposal of any product, check with your commercial hauler to confirm that they are accepting polypropylene cutlery in your area. 

Polypropylene is not compostable.

 

Polystyrene

Advantages:

Polystyrene is the second least expensive.

Polystyrene has a heat tolerance of 180℉* before distortion.

It is offered in light weight, medium weight, and heavy weight, as well as various lengths and sizes.

 

Disadvantages:Broken Fork

Polystyrene is the most rigid plastic cutlery option and will break more easily than polypropylene under extreme pressure.

It is recyclable, but acceptance will vary by state and facility.  Before disposal of any product, check with your commercial hauler to confirm that they are accepting polystyrene cutlery in your area.

Polystyrene is not compostable.

Plant Starch Material (PSM)

PSM cutlery is also known as plant starch material cutlery. PSM cutlery is made from a combination of plastic, such as polypropylene, and plant starch materials, such as corn and potato starch.

PSM is more expensive compared to polypropylene or polystyrene plastic cutlery but can offer cost savings compared to other environmentally friendly disposable cutlery options.

Advantages:

PSM cutlery is typically made from 20-30% plastic and 70-80% plant materials. The plastic component gives it the density and strength to bend before breaking.

PSM has a heat tolerance of 200℉* before distortion.

 

Disadvantages:

PSM has lost popularity in recent years as advancements in other cutlery options have been made available.

Unlike polypropylene or polystyrene, PSM cutlery does not use light, medium, or heavy weight as an indicator of cutlery density or size. The strength of PSM cutlery will be determined by the size and length of the product, and will vary by manufacturer.

PSM cutlery is not compostable because the 20-30% which is made of plastic materials that will not decompose.  

PSM cutlery is not recyclable.

 

Environmentally Friendly Disposable Cutlery

Cutlery which can be composted either at homeCompost or at a commercial facility will leave a smaller footprint on the earth and is considered more environmentally friendly.

More environmentally friendly disposable cutlery options include: CPLA (Crystallized, Polylactic Acid), Bamboo, Molded Fiber, and Wood.

Crystallized Polylactic Acid (CPLA)

CPLA also known as crystallized polylactic acid is sometimes referred to as PLA.

CPLA is more expensive than disposable plastic cutlery but is the cheapest environmentally friendly option.

Advantages:

CPLA cutlery is certified compostable and will compost within 60 - 180 days in commercial composting facilities.

CPLA has a heat tolerance of 185℉* before distortion.

It is offered in light weight, medium weight, and heavy weight, as well as various lengths and sizes.

 

Disadvantages:

 CPLA is very rigid and will break under extreme pressure.

 

Bamboo

Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource making it a great option for disposable cutlery.

Bamboo is more expensive than plastic and CPLA cutlery. Bamboo is similar in price to molded fiber.

Advantages:

Bamboo cutlery is certified compostable.

It is smooth and lightweight.

Bamboo has a heat tolerance of 200℉*.

If you are looking to display your sustainability efforts, bamboo cutlery can make it obvious to your customers that you consider the full product life cycle when making product decisions.

 Bamboo Cutlery

Disadvantages:

Bamboo cutlery does not use light, medium, or heavy weight as an indicator of cutlery density or size. The strength of bamboo cutlery will be determined by the size and length of the product, and will vary by manufacturer.

Bamboo cutlery does not come in a standard color.  Color can vary by each piece.

 

Molded Fiber

Molded fiber is made from a blend of recycled paperboard, newsprint, sugarcane, wheat fiber, and other natural plant material.

Molded fiber is similar in price to bamboo.

Advantages:Molded Fiber Cutlery

Molded fiber cutlery is certified compostable and will compost within 60 - 180 days in commercial composting facilities.

Molded fiber has a heat tolerance of 250℉*.

Molded fiber is the best option for facilities that need a safe (not sharp) cutlery option such as in prisons or hospitals.

 

Disadvantages:

Molded fiber is the least durable cutlery option.

If left to sit in a liquid for too long, molded fiber cutlery will become soft.

Molded fiber cutlery does not use light, medium, or heavy weight as an indicator of cutlery density or strength.

The strength of molded fiber cutlery will be determined by the size and length of the product, and will vary by manufacturer.

Related: Molded Fiber Food Packaging With PFAS: Is it Safe? Is it Compostable? 

Wood

Wood cutlery can be made from a variety of wood types including birch, pine, willow, or poplar.

Wood is the most expensive option.

Advantages:

Wood cutlery is certified compostable and will compost in any composting environment.

Wooden cutlery can be manufactured without any chemicals.

Wood cutlery has a heat tolerance of 200℉*.

If you are looking to display your sustainability efforts, wood cutlery can make it obvious to your customers that you consider the full product life cycle when making product decisions.

 

Disadvantages:

Wooden cutlery is porous and absorbent allowing it to absorb bacteria and moisture from food and liquids.

If wood cutlery is not properly manufactured or if it has a defect, it can allow for cracking and splintering of the wood, which can potentially cause harm to your guests. Bending or twisting wood cutlery can also lead to cracking and splintering.

Wood cutlery does not use light, medium, or heavy weight as an indicator of cutlery density or strength. The strength of wood cutlery will be determined by the type of wood and its thickness.


Final Thoughts

Finding the right cutlery to meet your company’s needs is important to the satisfaction of your customers and success of your business.

EBP has a variety of foodservice products to support your business. Selecting products with right balance of performance and price can be challenging.

Let an EBP Foodservice Specialist review your foodservice operation and recommend the best products. 

Subscribe to our blog for more useful tips from industry experts, answers to common questions, insights on the latest trends and creative solutions to help your business shine.

About Michael Tanguay

Michael Tanguay is a Sales Representative for EBP Supply Solutions, with over 25 years of experience in helping customers tackle their foodservice packaging and commercial cleaning challenges. Since 2012, he has specialized in sustainable foodservice packaging alternatives to help customers increase their food and beverage sales while being more environmentally conscious, and customizing cleaning and sanitation programs using green cleaning products to help lessen their company’s environmental footprint.