Plastic cutlery is bad, but wood is even worse
HomeHome > Blog > Plastic cutlery is bad, but wood is even worse

Plastic cutlery is bad, but wood is even worse

Aug 24, 2023

The current alternatives to environmentally unfriendly utensils can get in the bin

There is a reason why, in every sphere from the Six Nations to Ready Steady Cook, the loser gets the wooden spoon. It’s the consolation trophy no one ever wants – the booby prize that pokes fun at the recipient – which is how I feel whenever I buy a functional lunchtime soup and find I have to eat it with a piece of wooden cutlery.

Is there anything quite so undignified as trying to scoop a Pret ‘souper tomato’ into your mouth with the world’s flattest and least effective utensil? Every time I use one, I feel like one of those kittens from The Aristocats pointlessly lapping at their bowls of ‘crème de la crème a la Edgar’. Except I’m not going to drift off into a nice deep sleep afterwards, I’m just going to sit at my desk for the rest of the day with a rust-coloured splatter down my front and the taste of sawdust and disappointment in my mouth.

It seems I’m going to have to get used to it, because single use plastic utensils are about to be banned in England. Earlier this week, environment secretary Thérèse Coffey announced that disposable plastics such as cutlery, plates, trays and cups will no longer be permitted by the end of the year, forcing companies to provide eco-friendly alternatives with takeaway meals.

The ban will have a “huge impact” on the environment, says Coffey: “A plastic fork can take 200 years to decompose – that is two centuries in landfill or polluting our oceans.”

It is, of course, a perfectly reasonable plan. Statistics from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural affairs (DEFRA) reveal that people in England use an average of 18 single-use plastic plates and 37 items of plastic cutlery every year. Just 10 per cent are recycled. Coffey says the ban (similar versions of which are already in place in Scotland and Wales) will help to “protect the natural environment for future generations”.

That’s all fine and well – I’m obviously on board with finding an alternative to the pointless bits of plastic that could find their way into a turtle’s stomach – but can I implore whoever is coming up with plan B to think of something that is, put simply, less gross to eat with than wood?

A straw poll reveals I’m not alone in my distaste. “They make me genuinely angry,” says one colleague. “It’s like someone’s forced you to lick an envelope over and over,” cries another. “They’re just about acceptable if you’re spearing something, like a salad leaf, but totally grim with anything liquid.” And, straight to the point: “they just make everything taste rank”.

Wooden cutlery doesn’t even work particularly well. The tines of a fork tend to be too chubby, making it almost impossible to nail down a cherry tomato without causing a minor incident. Wooden knives are about as serrated as a banana; the spoons are not nearly, well, spoony enough. They lack the necessary curve, so you either have to accept you’re going to spend half the afternoon trying to get through a tub of spicy chorizo and butter bean, or you’ll need to employ a kind of scoop and lob technique, throwing bits of carrot in the direction of your mouth.

The only exceptions for those of us in the “wooden cutlery is the devil’s work” club are the chip shop fork (good spearing capabilities) and the lolly stick (requires minimal contact with the tongue). The stubby little wooden spoons you get in ice cream tubs can, in my humble opinion, get in the bin.

It seems that more will follow. Restaurant chain Leon recently replied to a customer who was unhappy with the stack of plastic cutlery in one of their restaurants, tweeting that they were looking into alternatives and were “most likely to go with a wooden option”. But surely there must be an alternative?

Bamboo tends to be smoother and less offensive to eat off, doesn’t it? I’m ashamed to admit it, but for a while I took to picking up plastic cutlery from the establishments that still provided it so I didn’t have to use the wooden ones from the shops that have already got rid of it. I’ve resolved not to do that anymore (I do care about the turtles, honest) but I really am calling time on wood.

There are simple ways around the problem. We all got on board with reusable coffee cups – they even became trendy. I could keep a set of reusable camping cutlery on my person, perhaps on a carabiner attached to a belt loop, like some sort of cross between Bob the Builder and Bear Grylls. I could keep a pot of metal forks and spoons on my desk, though that leaves me wide open to desk thieves. Or perhaps we all need to make like the owl and the pussycat, and eat with a runcible spoon – carried at all times, just in case.