Think More



Disposable Tableware


Classic Moment of Throwaway Living

Source:August 1955 American magazine “LIFE” - click to enlarge photo

In August 1955, on the 34th page of the American magazine “LIFE”, a photo as such was published: a family of 3 altogether threw different types of disposable household products high in the air, with face of liberation on them. The beginning of the passage writes: “The objects flying through the air in this picture would take 40 hours to clean----- except that no housewife need bother. They are all meant to be thrown away after use.”

The article was named “Throwaway Living” has become famous afterwards. Because the article seems to be declaring: A throwaway society has officially started.

Looking back, it is indeed a fierce photo. 


The Forefather of Disposable Tableware —

Actually, seven years before the publishing of the article on “LIFE” magazine, two American brothers have already quietly started the throwaway lifestyle. In 1948, with ready food, self-service counters and disposable tableware, they opened a restaurant under their family name. Till 2018, this restaurant had 37,855 branches all over the world in around 100 countries.

Some say that they founded fast food; some say because of fast food, disposable tableware is brought to every corner of the world. The problem is that the useful lifespan of disposable tableware is very short; yet, it had a very long lifespan when it becomes trash. Then, the restaurant owners who had earned a fortune didn’t take their responsibility for the waste they produced, and customers who had enjoyed the meal did not consider their share of the responsibility.……

Yes, the two brothers are called Richard and Maurice McDonald,
and the restaurant is called McDonald’s.


Is the Kitchen Dead?

After restaurants, the next battlefield is in our kitchen.

An analyst
of the multinational investment bank UBS said:
in the future, there’s a huge chance that
kitchens will cease to exist.

What is said here is not about a weird dimension that can make everything disappear, but is the gradual invasion of takeaway services. UBS analyst used “Is the Kitchen Dead” as the title where they predicted that by 2030, the world’s takeaway market will grow 10 times compared to now to become a business worth 365 billion USD.

Centralized kitchens, robotic food delivery and AI technology are the key for the takeaway industry to minimize their cost. Once the new generation of consumers is spoiled by quick and wide variety of food offered by the takeaway industry, who would need a kitchen then? In addition, the working hours in big cities are getting longer, yet apartments are getting smaller. Even if people have the passion and energy left, their homes may be too small in size for them to cook.

The takeaway revolution is getting close. Media reported that the Taiwan “takeaway tribe” has as high as 58.7 million people in it, taking up to one fourth of the population of the whole island. In 2016, public survey from mainland China shows that 60% of respondents at least gets takeaways three times per week.

An industry that can grow 10 folds in a decade (or a 20% compound annual growth rate), is certainly very tempting; the “Kitchen annihilation” prophecy said by the investment bank may become an alternative marketing for the takeaway economy. Then, what about things other than money?


Highly Increasing Garbage Under the Takeaway Trend

In Hong Kong, the number of short-lived plastic disposable tableware received by the landfills annually is around 10 billion.¹

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has started monitoring the amount of disposable tableware since 2015. Up till 2018, there is a 29% increment within a few years, and the main growth came from the domestic sector.

Why domestic waste increases the most? You will understand by looking at the delivery apps where everyone is very familiar with. Hot food to be delivered quickly up to your door, attached with a set of disposable tableware, but in a while, they all become trash. The Green Earth suggests everyone to check the option of “no cutlery” when using delivery apps. As for self-taking takeaway, please bring your own reusable containers to take your food.

Source: “Municipal Solid Waste Monitoring Report”

But these are only a small portion of the takeaway plastic waste. Don’t forget that there is still the plastic bag that holds the takeaway. Information from the EPD shows that the amount of plastic bags disposed by the catering industry in 2015 is over 300 million, and in 2018 it has increased 54% to 481 million.


Disposable Tableware = Convenient and Hygienic?

Disposable tableware is “convenient and hygienic” is a long lasting common view.

In the 1970s, Hepatitis B has created atrocity in Taiwan, leading to many chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis cases. It became one of the top 10 causes of death, and everyone is worried about Hepatitis B. Back then, medical professions couldn’t fully grasp the route of transmission. For prudent approaches, their health bureau highly promoted restaurants to use disposable tableware and public cutlery to prevent infection through saliva. As such, an equal sign is seemed to be placed right between “Disposable tableware” and “Hygienic diet”. And this “equal” sign has played a very successful role; from top restaurants to street food stalls, all of them have changed to use disposable chopsticks. This trend has lasted till now: it is reported that in Taiwan, 10 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are used yearly.

Here’s some scientific data: up to 11,000 types of chemicals are used for producing disposable tableware and plastic packaging. As for those Non-intentionally added substances (NIAS), there are even up to 30,000 to 100,000 types. Over 1,200 scientific research clearly points out that these chemicals can be transferred from the packaging to the food and drinks. Which means that everyone will intake some chemicals, the only difference is how much each person has ingested.

Photo: Taipei

Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has again made restaurants all over the world put up notices saying: “All dine-in desserts will be served on disposable tableware for hygienic purposes”, “During the pandemic, our store will be using only single-use cutlery”……

What kind of disposable catastrophe will be brought upon again this time?


Fighting Against a Disposable Culture War

Flooding of disposable tableware is a garbage problem, as well as a challenge from disposable culture. A research proposes the following sequence: Waste reduction from source (avoid production and usage), reuse, recycle, compost and others (such as replacement with edible cutlery).

You might say, isn’t this some “Redundant” talk? But if we seriously practise “Waste reduction from source and reusing”, the reduction result can go up to 63%.

In recent years, the world has put up a fight against disposable tableware trend. Other than the ban committed by the EU, Canada and Taiwan mentioned above, many big brands in the food industry such as Starbucks, KFC and McDonald’s have announced the elimination of plastic straws one by one.

In 2018, the Hong Kong Government policy address has proposed, “In view of the potential impact of disposable plastic tableware on the marine environment and ecology of Hong Kong and the rest of the world, we will research the feasibility, scope and mechanism of regulating or prohibiting disposable plastic tableware.” The consultant study will get started in the first quarter of 2019. Until now (first quarter of 2020) we haven’t heard any specific policy recommendations.

On the contrary, “no plastic” operations and campaigns launched by the civil society are moving even quicker. Other than restaurants, big events such as running races, and mountain races are not falling behind. Responding to reduction in disposable tableware, methods are as such:

Renting reusable tableware
and cups

Encouraging participants to
bring their own containers

Adding water refill
facilities, etc.





Please search the year of entry of Foodpanda, Deliveroo, Uber Eats and more international food delivery groups. See if they are related to the increment of the local disposal tableware.

International fast food industry is speeding up the elimination of plastic straws, of course it will help reduce plastic use and waste. However, comparing to a fast food meal that may use up to 10 pieces of disposable rubbish, can a straw-banning act really tackle the problem?