Some unscrupulous dinnerware brands have tried to confuse consumers by labelling plates and bowls as “degradable,” which doesn’t mean anything. We cut through the greenwashing to highlight biodegradable dinnerware brands which are fully compostable and contain no petroleum plastics.
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So, you’re in the market for sustainably made plates, bowls, and glasses. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast.
If you Google the term “eco-friendly dinnerware,” you’re going to find upwards of 7 million results. Search Amazon, and you’ll find a choice of about 1,200 wheat straw- and bamboo-based dinnerware products as of this writing.
Best recycled glass dinnerware
And inarguably, those materials sound really good. On the face of it, it seems like you could choose any one of them and be doing your part for the planet.
Looking for kid’s plates and cups? Be sure to check out Leigh’s piece on non-toxic dinnerware for young kids.
Greenwashing is rampant in the dinnerware industry
The problem is that many of these sellers are “greenwashing” consumers, or making well-meaning people think what they’re buying is eco-friendly when it is not. Buried in fine print somewhere on the wheat straw dinnerware product pages, for example, you’ll likely find that these products are made not only of plant fibers, but also of melamine, which is a type of plastic used in traditional low-cost dinnerware. Melamine is considered food-safe, though not for microwave use, but like all petroleum-based plastics, it is not compostable or even biodegradable.
When plastic is mixed in with wheat straw, bamboo, or other natural fillers, the resulting products are less durable than regular plastic products, so they’ll have a shorter lifespan. Worse, you can’t recycle them since they’re an amalgamation of plastic and plant fibers, and you can’t compost them for the same reason. All you can do is trash them.
There are truly eco-friendly dinnerware products, made solely of plant materials like:
- and bioplastics (which are also plant-derived)
These sustainable dinnerware options are family-friendly and generally made to last for years, though, as a result of their biodegradability, probably not a lifetime.
For those in search of long-lasting earth-conscious dinnerware appropriate for a wedding registry, entertaining, or everyday use, I have specific recommendations for you as well.
Eco-friendly dinnerware: our top picks
I give preference to companies who create non-toxic, earth-friendly, and socially responsible dinnerware, because ideally, the people who make our dishes are able to put food on the table for their own families as well.
Here are my picks for the best eco-friendly and sustainable dinnerware options:
Highlights: Family-friendly, dishwasher and microwave-safe plates made purely from plants.
Zungleboo co-founder and mother Kay Park created this line of lightweight, plant-based, compostable dinnerware as a solution for tired, sustainability-focused parents like herself.
The collection was developed as an alternative to the plastic-swamped kid dinnerware market, created to be lightweight and therefore easy on the elbows, yet tough enough to endure all the microwave reheating (up to two minutes), dishwasher cycles (up to 160℉), and spills of early family life. Thanks to the clean lines, tasteful neutral tones, and relatively large size of the plates (up to 11” in diameter), it’s safe to say this eco-friendly tableware brand is a fit for households without children as well.
By crafting its products from fast-growing crops like bamboo and corn, Zungleboo maintains a significantly smaller carbon footprint than plasticware manufacturers. By the company’s calculations, its bioplastics manufacturing results in 80% less greenhouse gas emissions than its plastic plate producing counterparts, and uses less than half the non-renewable energy. And because the eco-friendly plates and bowls are petroleum plastic-free, Zungleboo dinnerware is completely biodegradable and compostable at the end of its life.
With a small baby at home who loves to “gravity test” anything we put on the trey of her highchair, Zungleboo dinnerware is just what the doctor ordered. Of course, we love that it’s non-toxic, but the products are also durable, having withstood many gravity tests on to hardwood flooring.
- Earthy texture
- Look good, and come in fun colors
- Can dent in the heat of the dishwasher if not lined up on the rack perfectly
Highlights: This striking, wedding registry-worthy dinnerware collection is made from 100% recycled sea glass and comes from a company dedicated to environmental and social responsibility.
Viva Terra is a home goods company that checks all the social and environmental responsibility boxes, offering an array of fair trade, domestically made, recycled, reclaimed, natural, and sustainably sourced products. The SeaGlass Recycled Glass Dinnerware Collection is among its most unique, visually appealing, and sustainable tableware offerings.
The modern, American-made plates are pretty enough to hang on a wall, crafted of smudge-proof matte glass in nature-inspired hues. The pieces are collectible and made to mix and match, but availability of the popular pieces can be iffy.
Viva Terra also offers a more straightforward-looking recycled glass dinnerware set (View on VivaTerra) if that’s more your style. This collection is handcrafted in Spain of transparent and lightweight, yet durable green- or sand-colored glass. Options include an 18-piece set that serves six.
Highlights: Our top pick for eco-friendly entertaining, this company has been making attractive, disposable, and compostable dinnerware from abundant, fast-growing bamboo for nearly two decades.
Bambu products are my go-to choice for casual dinner parties without the guilt of single-use plastics.
This Certified B-Corporation and 1% For The Planet member business was the first to use certified organic bamboo in the making of its compostable single-use dinnerware, which means the crops are grown while promoting ecological balance, conserving biodiversity and abstaining from genetic modification and pesticide use. As of 2020, Bambu is a CarbonFund.org-certified carbon neutral company, thanks to its participation in carbon offset programs.
The couple behind the brand live and work in China alongside their production team to ensure the continued high quality of Bambu’s sustainable single-use dinnerware.
Bambu products include plates in circular, square or “fancy” floral shapes, cutlery sets, cloth-like bamboo napkins, reusable serving trays and utensils, plus both single-use and reusable bamboo straws. All products retain the bamboo plant’s natural hue for a unique, attractive and modern look that will likely spur curious conversation around the dinner table.
Bambu dinnerware will biodegrade in a home compost in about 4-6 months.
Highlights: Costa Nova Portugal uses clay waste from its own factory to create elegant and sustainable dinnerware products.
Rather than discard factory waste, Costa Nova Portugal recycles surplus clay and glazes to create its recycled stoneware products. This practice results in the reduced extraction of natural raw materials from the company’s home country, Portugal; increased energy efficiency; and a reduction of landfill waste.
Costa Nova has also developed a single-fire kiln process (most companies use two or even three) to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions. In addition, the sustainable dinnerware company states on its website that it utilizes solar energy and reuses heat from its kilns to power other factory machinery.
Last but not least, its products are swoon-worthy. Striking modern pieces in high contrast hues comprise both of Costa Nova’s most sustainable collections: Plano and Lagoa Eco Gres. Each plate, bowl, teacup, and vase in these lines is composed of 90% recycled materials. Stoneware and other ceramics can last a lifetime if well cared for and can be recycled in some dedicated ceramics recycling facilities.
Highlights: This stainless steel kids’ dinnerware set is an attractive, durable, non-toxic, and eco-friendly alternative to popular plastic sets.
Thinking about how many meals, snacks and drinks children consume from potentially toxin-leaching plastic plates, containers and cups can boggle the mind. Stainless steel is a durable, plastic- and toxin-free, recyclable answer for families suffering from plastic overload.
Among stainless steel dinnerware sets, Ahimsa’s is especially well designed, probably at least in part because it was created by a pediatrician and mom. The serving compartments are portioned according to a child’s age-based dietary needs and the products are both shatterproof and dishwasher-safe. (As you may have guessed, they cannot be microwaved.) The sets come either in a traditional stainless steel finish or with a fun iridescent-blue or rainbow coating.
In addition to creating non-toxic, sustainable kids’ dinnerware, Ahimsa contributes 1% of profits to The Patachou Foundation, which provides healthy food and nutrition lessons for kids in need.
Highlights: Affordable, unique, hand-painted ceramic and glass tableware made with recycled materials and natural pigments. A great choice for everyday use.
Our Place offers a line of chic, non-toxic, and responsibly-produced tableware, pots, pans, and knives. The brand’s conscious business practices include using a high percentage of recycled glass and ceramics in its eco-friendly dinnerware, as well as providing fair pay and supportive work environments for the people who produce its products. The company is also involved in a program aimed at improving access to healthy food for residents of its home city, Los Angeles.
Our Place’s Dinner for 4 Bundle offers great value on a sustainable dinnerware set, and even provides one of Our Place’s coveted nonstick, non-toxic ceramic pans in which to cook the meal. The set can be customized to match just about any kitchen, thanks to the array of color options available for each piece.
At the end of use, ceramic products can be donated or recycled at a dedicated ceramics recycling facility.
The Bottom Line
When shopping for eco-friendly dinnerware made from natural materials, look out for descriptions that include mysterious terms like “PP,” “poly,” “polypropylene” or “melamine,” as these are all code words for plastic. Some sneaky companies even use the term “degradable” in their product descriptions, which is supposed to sound like “biodegradable,” but doesn’t actually mean anything.
Products that bear the Biodegradable Products Institute logo or a foreign equivalent must be fully compostable and therefore contain no petroleum plastics.