Here’s One Simple Thing You Can do to Help Save the Oceans

Bringing your own cutlery can make a dent in the billions of plastic utensils we use each year.

Jul 9, 2019
Here’s One Simple Thing You Can do to Help Save the Oceans | Bringing your own cutlery can make a dent in the billions of plastic utensils we use each year.

Carrying your own fork and spoon or bringing your own cutlery (BYO) can help to solve the plastic crisis. We throw away billions of single-use plastic spoons, forks, and knives a year. The BYO movement could make a dent in that huge amount of waste.

Single-use plastics can take over a thousand years to break-down and fill up our landfills and our oceans. In fact, the Ocean Conservancy ranks plastic cutlery the second most deadly threat to turtles, sea mammals, and birds because it can be mistaken for food.

The easiest solution is BYO cutlery, even though people may think that you are a bit strange. But this is actually a return to the way people historically ate outside the home, and it was considered faux pas not to bring your own.

“You would come with a little carry case, and it would be your own personal knife and spoon,” Sarah Coffin, who curated the 2006 exhibit on tableware from 1500-2005 at the Cooper Hewitt in New York, told National Geographic.

“If you come with your own,” said Coffin, “you don't have to worry about someone else's germs in your soup.” Also, what you ate with, she said, was a status symbol of sorts. The common people ate with utensils made of wood or stone. Fancier cutlery was made of gold, silver or ivory and sets were made to carry. People had to bring their own because for the most part, none were provided for guests.

By the early 1900s, Coffin said that stainless steel began to be used for cutlery and by World War II, other materials began to be used, including plastic. In its early use, the generation that fought the depression and then World War II washed and reused plastic silverware. But when prosperity came in the post-war economy, people began to use and dispose of the plastic ware. This caused the single-use plastic mentality that is so ingrained today.

“The Americans were the disposable kings,” said Coffin but the French culture of picnicking also helped spur the single-use boom. In 2017, the global plastic cutlery market was estimated to be $2.6 billion.

The convenience of plastic one use silverware has come at a terrible environmental cost. Environmentalists have made the banning of single-use plastics a major priority. In 2016, France was the first country to ban plastic cutlery, and the EU has approved a ban of single-use plastics that will go into effect in 2021.

Airlines, which use a huge amount of disposable plastics, are jumping on the single-use-free bandwagon. In January 2019, a Portuguese airline HI Fly flight from Portugal to Brazil made headlines as the first fully plastic-free flight. Everything from the cups, spoons, drink bottles and saltshakers to the toothbrushes were replaced with sustainable products. The airline plans on being completely plastic free by the end of 2019.

There is biodegradable disposable cutlery made from plant-based materials that can break down in the environment, but they are not yet widely available, and some people are reluctant to make the switch because of the cost. Hopefully, as use grows, the price will come down.

Some companies are making utensils from fast-growing sources like birch trees or bamboo. The Canadian brand Aspenware uses excess wood from the lumber industry to be more sustainable. Some of the brands are even edible like Trishula, an Indian brand that comes in eight flavors.

Of course, the best replacement is not necessarily choosing a biodegradable disposable but to BYO. In China, environmentalists are campaigned for people to carry their own chopsticks. The online store Esty has a section of reusable cutlery, and the BYO movement is growing. If more people join, it could become the newest trend.

The EU Just Approved a Wide-Ranging Ban on Single-Use Plastic
These Edible Spoons Create Zero Waste and Taste Great
5 Ways You Can Calculate How Much Plastic Waste You Generate in a Year

Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.