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I just joined a waste minimization board in my office and one of the area we discussed was the use of plastic cutlery in our canteen. While the best option in my opinion would be to remove all single use cutlery there might be cases where there would be need for a single use ones and I was wondering, is disposable wooden cutlery generally better than plastic one?

I understand the problem of plastic not being degradable and the problems of recycling it and polluting oceans but what is the carbon footprint of these two alternatives? Could the wooden cutlery create methane in landfill? Or what about the amount of water being used in production?

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I found a paper by Wassman (2008) which compares polystyrene to biodegradable and compostable (B&C) plastic, showing that the main benefit of using the B&C cutlery appears if they are composted afterwards. Note that if composted properly, methane emissions associated to biodegradation should be very limited.

So yes, non-plastic based material can probably be better than plastic, but you should compost it to make it worth the trouble. I did not find anything for wood, but bamboo might be fine if certified (see this report, though it's probably not very objective). Potential reason to prefer bamboo to normal wood are associated to resource management and potential health impact of wood resin if I understood correctly.

See also (Cerruti 2017) for most significant impacts regarding catering.

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