How to choose planet
HomeHome > News > How to choose planet

How to choose planet

Jun 29, 2023

The most sustainable ware for your garden are the pieces you already have. Picture: Ikea

I know, I drone on like a bumblebee every June regarding Earth-friendly behaviour around the barbecue. This year will be no exception.

Check out our Sustainability and Climate Change Hub where you will find the latest news, features, opinions and analysis on this topic from across the various Irish Examiner topic desks and their team of specialist writers and columnists.

However, having pounced all over the carbon-spewing sins of the gas grill, let’s have a look at our table and the glittering supporting cast of flatware, cutlery and drinking stock. How green is your summer feasting table?


Let’s start with melamine, a nitrogen-rich chemical compound, and vintage favourite for pop-coloured plates, cups, countertops and more. For use in the garden, it won’t shatter and is durable enough to replace ceramic plates and glasses for several summers of heavy use. It’s especially attractive on the showroom shelf as it takes intense and intricate prints beautifully and matches well with cut-glass faux acrylic sparklers in gem colours.

Sadly, in terms of the environment, melamine is a little problematic in garden and picnicware. It cannot always go into the dishwasher, where comedic shrinkage will send it to the dollhouse (check the labelling on your product). It most definitely cannot go in the microwave. On top of that, despite melamine’s lightweight, ease of washing in the sink, and physical stability under the hand, the surface is soon gouged by knives and pickled in ketchup and sauces, scratches, and fades sooner than a quality ceramic vessel or plate.

Melamine is a thermoset plastic that does not melt and cannot be recycled, so you should treat it as carefully as you would your cherished Denby. It can (in theory) be ground down to use in wood composites, but it would be up to your individual landfill to direct it the right way and there’s no protocol here in Ireland at present. Once you tire of that flamingo print tropical styling or wear it out — for now, it’s doomed to the black bin.

All that said, we need to strike a balance. Melamine, used properly is convenient and food safe, so don’t get drawn into the various scandals surrounding its sprinkling around in other dastardly forms. The melamine-formaldehyde resin used in making domestic flatware does not release anything that migrates into food. It’s safe to use.

Treat it gently to ensure its longevity using no more than hot soapy water and the soft side of your scrubby sponge — avoid anything abrasive. My choice this summer is the Expressive Floral range by M&S in a melting watercolour, dishwasher safe and robust at €19.20 for four.


Plastic has proven less than fantastic, but there are ways to use alternatives and derivatives with a clean conscience. Plant-based PLAs are popular with farmers' markets and baristas alike, as they are perfect for a clear view of juices and iced coffees and skip merrily to the compost heap. Reusable BPA-free plastic plates, bottles and glasses come in a myriad of forms, and treated with care, they offer a good option for garden and patio use. Rigid plastics like polypropylene (used for babies' and toddlers’ dining ware) are not great for warm foodstuffs and are not suited to recycling — so again, look after them.

Choose products using recycled materials wherever possible and make them last as long as possible with gentle washing techniques.

Single-use plastic plates and cutlery have been banned in Ireland since 2021. Look up multiple-use plastic goods that are dishwasher safe, including colourful cutlery sets, ideal for parties, €2.99 for a 24-pack, Tesco does a 12-pack of reusable plastic cutlery in pastel colours for €2, just 17c a piece. Next and Homesense offer 100% acrylic multi-use dishes and glasses that are dishwasher safe including some delightful Bee & Daisy Tumblers, €21 for a set of four; see


All paper goods are not created equal. What we’re looking for in plates, cups and napkins is unbleached paper. Even then, we need to understand which direction to throw it after use. Standard paper plates have a non-stick, water-repelling coat of a waxy substance to prevent them from absorbing grease and liquids from the foodstuffs. These multiple materials cannot be separated, so an unsustainable plate will have to go in the black bin.

An eco-friendly paper plate is chlorine-free and made entirely of pulp fibre. It can safely be recycled in the food bin or compost heap once it’s cleaned down. FSC-certified paper plates and cups use a plant-based lining, so they won’t fold and collapse with a sticky plate of ribs.

As it’s difficult to determine that all paper pulp going into generically described “paper” products is FSC approved, it can be assumed that paper plates without any planet-friendly messaging, will contribute to deforestation and habitat loss. Look for their environmental credentials and otherwise keep their use to a minimum.

Paper napkins, due to their weight have fewer fibres, and break down quickly with composting. They defeat cotton napkins on the grounds of the water, detergent and energy required to wash and dry real linen. Look for recycled varieties.

Bagasse sugarcane flatware (plates and bowls) is a biodegradable paper alternative. It’s very fibrous, so has great stability in the hand, even loaded with greasy food. Dispose of it either in your own heap in the garden, where it will break down over three-six months, or place the plates (cleaned off) in the brown bin.

Palm-leaf plates look like pale tropical wood, but are disposable, strong, additive- and chemical-free, and 100% compostable. They are made from fallen palm leaves, so cleaning up and contributing to our circular economy. Expect to pay in the order of 60c-65c per palm leaf plate in a pack of 100 by a reputable supplier like Fiesta Green (, and 16c for 349ml coffee cups in FSC-rated chlorine-free paper.


If you hill-walk or picnic regularly, throw shade on plastic cutlery with the Bambaw Bamboo cutlery set of a fork, knife, spoon, straw, cleaning brush and dedicated pouch for €11.99. The Little Green Shop also stock Plain Jane reusable bamboo and stainless-steel straws from €5.50 for 6. Stasher’s fabulous reusable silicone food bags can be slung in the oven or microwave too; from €11.50,

My Waste (Ireland), the go-to to find-out where anything should go from your kitchen or garden, offers the following advice: “The best paper towels or napkins to use is the kind that has already been recycled as it will be free from unnatural chemicals” (see If your paper is just battered or has not been used, it can go for recycling, if it has been used to wipe down food waste from plates and dishes and is unbleached, it can go into your food bin for composting (the brown bin).

The most Earth-friendly dishes, glasses, cutlery, and cups, are the ones you already own that are intended for multiple use. They could be ceramic, glass, plastic, or bamboo. Marry new and old dishes for an adult, harlequin table-scape that cannot be replicated. Using any efficient dishwasher on an Eco cycle, you can run 12-14 complete sets of suitable ceramic dishes and glassware with 5l of water and a pinch of energy, enough for most small parties.

more home - interiors articles

More in this section