A recent little trend I’ve noticed in Calgary eateries is the use of compostable dishes and utensils, in place of the usual ceramic and metal.
It’s most noticeable at the gorgeous ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe, where my soup is served in a container made of renewable plant materials—post-consumer paper fibre from sugarcane and a polyethylene, corn-based lining known as Ingeo.
At Grumans Deli (Britannia location), there’s a prominent sign explaining why all its food and drinks is served on compostable “packaging”. “Grumans cares about the environment,” the sign says. Though when I ask why they’ve gone this route, servers at both places just mention the lack of space for electric dishwashers; there’s obviously also labour, equipment and hot-water cost savings from not having to wash dishes.
I’m not sure how I feel about this trend. On the one hand, it’s good that such establishments are promoting environmental responsibility and not simply throwing dishes in the trash, destined for landfills. And it’s much better to be packing leftovers or takeout in paper boxes than in Styrofoam containers, which might take hundreds of years to break down.
Mind you, it’s best to dispose of these compostable dishes in the restaurants’ compost bins, because for some reason the City of Calgary’s composting pick-up program doesn’t allow compostable cups and dishes in its green bins.
On the other hand, compostable dishes are still single use, even if they end up as soil. I haven’t seen a good study arguing the environmental footprint merits of one-use compostable dishes versus washing regular dishes innumerable times, though me thinks the latter would win that debate.
And there’s simply the aesthetics. Eating soup with a plastic spoon out of a “paper” bowl is just not as pleasing as porcelain. And while you can, and should, use your own travel mug at coffee shops that just offer plastic-lined paper cups, I don’t think we’ve reached the point of bringing our own washable dishes and utensils to our favourite eateries. By the way, Berkeley, California has just passed a regulation charging consumers 25 cents for every disposable cup they get at a coffee shop.
Even the restaurants that have embraced compostable dishes might agree with my aesthetic sentiments. After all, on the websites of the above-mentioned joints, the photos show food and drink served in regular, washable plates, bowls and cups.