Paper Plate Facts

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Paper plates are seen at picnics and in backyards all summer long. They are great for simple meals such as a sandwich, a hamburger, or hot dogs, but they are messy when you add potato salad or pasta salad. Paper plates are a product of the early 1900s and will probably be used for many more years.

History

Since 1904, paper plates have become a staple in almost every household. Many paper plates are white, but bleach and dye are used to create patterns and pictures to add a color to the final product. One company, Hefty, created a whole line of plates and bowls (called Zoo Pals), in which the paper product is shaped like the face of different animals, with two ears for small servings or condiments.

Manufacture

Paper plates are made from plant fibers (usually trees) that are separated and washed. As the mixture is forced through mesh screens, it turns into a liquid pulp. Paper plates are considered paperboard, which is a thick sheet of paper. Paperboard is either corrugated (for boxes) or boxboard (for food products and paper plates). A paper plate machine is used to make paper plates of various sizes and shapes. One such machine is known as the “Intelligent Paper Plate Machine zdj-500,” built by the Ruian Haubang Machinery Company.

Reusable Plates

Companies such as Hefty offer a variety of reusable paper-like plates, which in fact are made with a Styrofoam product. These plates are offered in different strengths for messy foods, as well as holiday designs and styles. Many plates made from Styrofoam products are recyclable.

Environmentally Friendly

One company, Verterra, has a full line of paper plate products made entirely from water and leaves that have already fallen. After use, the plate can be left in a compost pile for about three months, at which time it turns the used plates into a product than can be used to grow plants and vegetables in a garden. In addition to paper plates, they offer bowls and serving dishes. A 15-piece sample pack is available for $25.

Disposal

Traditional paper plates are naturally biodegradable and can be disposed of in the ordinary trash. Some paper plates may contain trace amounts of volatile organic chemicals or dyes from manufacture, but environmentalists are unsure what, if any, harm is caused during disposal. Styrofoam plates may be able to recycled; check the product package for more details.

Fun Things to Make

Paper plates can be used as activities for children in school or at home. Web sites such as Freekidscrafts.com and teach-nology.com offer a site full of fun things to make, such as fish, flowers, and a sun made with paper plates and yellow construction paper.

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