Judy Silkoff

We need to break the Jewish dependence on disposable kitchenware

Addicted to disposables? Time to think again


Single-use plastic cutlery is pictured in a tray at a fast-food outlet west of London on January 14, 2023. - England will ban a wide range of single-use plastic items from October including plates and cutlery in order to limit their "devastating" effect on the environment, the government said Saturday. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

January 20, 2023 11:00

My name is Judy, and I’m a disposables addict. Once, news of the government’s imminent ban on single-use plastics would have thrown me into sheer panic, but fortunately, I’ve been (mostly) disposables-free for almost a year now.

When I was a child, disposable plates, cutlery and the like were unheard of. School dinners were served on reusable trays with real cutlery, and if you wanted a quick drink of water at home you took a proper glass (and then got shouted at by your mother for leaving it in the sink without washing it up).

But over the last couple of decades, our community’s reliance on disposable tableware at home, shul and fast-food places has rapidly increased. For me, the prospect of hosting multiple guests on Shabbat and dealing with the washing up was daunting. I always felt a bit guilty filling binbags with heavy-duty plastic dishes at the end of such a meal, but I couldn’t see any other way.

Recently though, I decided to make changes. Admittedly, this coincided with the long overdue purchase of a dishwasher. But learning that something as seemingly inconsequential as a plastic fork takes over 200 years to decompose and that Brits send over 4bn pieces of single-use cutlery to landfill annually played a part too.  In my kitchen today you’ll find only a small ‘emergency’ stock of disposable bamboo cutlery and compostable paper plates and cups.

I cringe when I see adverts in Jewish magazines for items like disposable plastic challah covers and single-use plastic measuring cups for baking. In some Charedi circles (particularly in Israel, where the new government has just reversed the plastics tax), there’s a sense that banning disposables verges on discriminatory – how else is a large family to manage? – but I wish we could focus more on our religious obligations not to be destructive or wasteful.

There are environmentally-friendly alternatives out there – many kosher groceries now stock eco-friendly disposable options. And I promise you that hot kugel at a kiddush tastes just as good eaten with a wooden fork as a plastic one – better even, because wood doesn’t melt, and that kugel is scorching!

Won’t you join me at Disposables Anonymous? Our planet will thank you for it.

January 20, 2023 11:00

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