In general, I am completely averse to any product that can be labeled “disposable.” Part of the reason our planet is in the condition it’s in is that so many people have a disposable mentality. We are socialized to believe that a product’s value is determined by its convenience, no matter how or where it was made or where it will end up once it’s not useful to us anymore.
I am however, also a realist. While I personally have no problem using regular ceramic plates every day and washing them, sometimes by hand, I understand that there are lots of people for whom this isn’t a realistic ideal. There are also situations in which even the eco-conscious among us will want a more convenient alternative.
I recently had a chance to test two completely different types of disposable plates: Verterra dinnerware, made from nothing by fallen palm leaves, heat and pressure, and plates and bowls from the CVS Earth Essentials line, which are made from a derivative of sugarcane. Both are made from renewable resources and are compostable, microwaveable and water-resistant, which, for me, is a bare minimum for any disposable plates. But how well did they perform? My family gladly put both to the test.
The first thing I said when I opened the package of Verterra plates is “how cool is that?” Once you know they are made of palm leaves, it seems obvious. Without this knowledge, you might think they were made of bamboo.
Verterra sent us a few plates in a variety of sizes along with one bowl. They were all pretty small, to be honest, and I was a little disappointed by that. I tried to look at the bright side, reasoning that they would help us keep our portion sizes down. However, on a recent shopping trip to our local EarthFare market, my husband and I found 8- and 10-inch Verterra dinner plates, so bigger options are definitely available.
I tend to cook with sauces pretty often. We’re from the Caribbean, so that typically means curries and tomato-based stews. The Verterra plates felt very sturdy, but I was a little worried about what would happen when they came in contact with steaming gravy. The simple answer? Nothing at all. They held up like a champ.
And while I know the plates are meant to be disposable, I couldn’t bear to throw them away. So I handwashed them and set them on the counter on top of a towel to dry. The handwashing softened the plates quite a bit, and warped them very slightly, but after they dried, they were good as new and as firm as ever. The photo above on the left shows a Verterra plate in use. The photo on the right shows it after it was washed and dried. You can see that it’s slightly warped on the right side, but still completely usable. We’ve actually hand-washed them a couple of times since receiving them, and they show no sign of falling apart or weakening. Given that these are intended as disposable plates, I have to say I was pretty impressed.
CVS Earth Essentials
These plates are made of fibers derived from sugar cane after it is processed. They look innocent enough — sort of like a heavy-duty disposable paper plate. The inside of the plate is smooth, presumably coated with some sort of non-toxic food safe substance to make it waterproof, while the back is a lot rougher to the touch.
We put the Earth Essentials plates to the ultimate test: Spaghetti dinner. Our meat sauce typically isn’t very wet, but sauce is sauce. And I know from experience that paper plates will fold under the pressure. These plates were very sturdy and held up even to my husband’s portion. After we ate, there were no soggy spots on the plate — just some staining from the sauce. Impressive.
But then I faced the real test. Would I actually be able to throw them away? I walked into the kitchen tempted to head over to the sink, but since the plates have a consistency that is similar to paper, I didn’t think that would be a good idea. Since (confession time) we have yet to get a true compost bin, we tossed the plates in the trash. I asked before receiving the plates if they would still biodegrade if thrown in the regular trash. I was told that the process would take longer, but they would still break down.
Overall, I prefer the Verterra plates. They are sturdy and stylish, and I’d feel great about serving to guests on them. And the fact that I can wash and reuse them several times makes them totally worth the money. That said, they are a bit hard to find, and it’s great to know that I can head to my nearest CVS and find some great, compostable plates. I still plan to stick to reusable ceramic plates for daily meals, but if we ever have a cookout or we plan a party for my daughter’s birthday this year, both Verterra and CVS Earth Essentials are great options.