Regardless of the type of business you run, you can likely find several uses for paper plates that range from daily lunches to serving snacks at company picnics. Businesses that sell food from a truck, cart or booth can particularly find paper plates convenient for serving customers.

Your business has several types of paper plates to choose from when it comes to the size and strength of materials. You'll want to compare the advantages and disadvantages of paper plates to other types of dinnerware to decide the best option.

History of Paper Plates

You can trace the invention of paper plates back to the early 1900s by a New Hampshire man named Martin Keyes. He established a company in 1903 called the Keyes Fibre Company and had the idea of making pie plates out of molded pulp. He was able to make a machine that could create these paper plates and patented his creation.

Keyes first shipped the paper pie plates in 1904 but encountered some setbacks since the plates were expensive to make. However, he discovered how to produce them more cheaply, and the market became popular a few years later. He went on to make more disposable paper products, and his company is now known for the Chinet brand of disposable dinnerware that you'll find in supermarkets.

Types of Paper Plates

Today, you can find paper plates in small and large sizes and different shapes and plate counts from popular brands like Dixie, Solo and Hefty as well as various store brands.

Platter-sized paper plates have an oblong shape and work well for buffets, while standard dinner-sized plates are a popular choice for typical snacks and lunches. You can also find smaller dessert plates used for treats and snacks along with square paper plates designed for appetizers. Some paper plates also come with separate compartments built in to conveniently separate foods and determine portions more easily.

You'll also find paper plates that vary by features, such as durability, biodegradability or being chemical-free. When you need strong plates that can hold a large meal, you can find heavy-duty options that mention being leak-free and are much thicker than a standard paper plate. Paper plates made from recycled materials appeal to those seeking a sustainable option. People who want to avoid chemicals like chlorine can find all-natural paper plates as a safer choice.

Advantages of Paper Plates

Some advantages that can make using paper plates an attractive option for your business include:

  • Convenience: Compared to reusable plates that you have to wash and dry after each use, paper plates can save you time and hassle in your office. You can simply toss your used paper plate in the trash and return to work.

  • Safety: Unlike glass and ceramic plates that you can drop and break, paper plates are much safer. You won't have to worry about yourself or anybody else getting cut from sharp remnants due to a fallen plate.

  • Hygiene: Since they're designed for one-time use, paper plates come with the benefit of hygiene. When only one person touches and eats off the plate, there's less of a chance for bacteria to grow or sickness to spread.

  • Ease of transport: Since paper plates are thin and compact, you can easily transport a large stack around the office or to business events. Reusable plates made of other materials like ceramic can weigh much more and come with a risk of damage during transit. You'll also need much less space to store the paper plates and can simply carry them easily in a bag or box when needed.

  • Cost (in cases of light use): If you only use plates occasionally in the office for meals, you can find paper plates a more affordable option than buying more expensive dinnerware. You can also save money since you won't need to use water to wash the plates or have an employee use their time to wash dishes.

  • Biodegradable options: While you'll usually pay more, you can find paper plates made from recycled materials. This can provide a sustainable option that has less of a negative impact on the environment.

  • Microwavable: While you can find microwave-safe plates made of other materials, this feature, along with the other benefits of paper plates, can make them the most appealing option for use during employee lunches and parties.

Disadvantages of Paper Plates

While your business might enjoy the convenience, safety and other benefits of using paper plates, you must also consider these potential drawbacks to this disposable option:

  • Environmental impact: If you opt for the cheaper types of paper plates that aren't made of recyclable materials, you end up with more waste that harms the environment. While the paper plates still decompose, it can take longer and leave behind some harmful residues.

  • Durability: When you use thin paper plates, you risk having the food leak through the bottom of the plate and cause a mess. If you put something heavy and wet on the plate, the food might even fall through the bottom.

  • Impact on taste: According to North Carolina State University, using paper plates can make eating food less enjoyable. This isn't related to anything in the plates themselves but stems from a psychological connection people have with food and the quality of the dinnerware and cutlery.

  • Time spent on disposal: While you won't have to wash them, you'll still need to spend time putting paper plates in the trash and emptying it. Using them frequently can mean more inconvenient trips to the dumpster.

  • Cost (in cases of heavy use): When you go through hundreds of paper plates, you might find that you spend more money for the convenience. You also have to consider your trash fees.

  • Impression on customers: While your regular office staff might not mind much about using paper plates, it can be a different story if you run a food establishment. Your customers may perceive your restaurant as being cheaper or less elegant when you serve them food on disposable dinnerware.

Other Disposable Plate Options

When exploring the different types of plates for serving food, know that your business can also consider using disposable foam or plastic plates. These alternatives vary by cost, durability and impact on the environment.

You can purchase foam plates at a relatively inexpensive cost and still get benefits such as convenience, safety, hygiene and ease of transport. These plates are also good for keeping your food at its temperature longer. Hefty notes that foam plates can be better for the environment than paper plates since they're associated with less material, energy and emissions throughout their life cycle; however, they're not biodegradable. You also can't safely microwave foam plates, so they work better for food served fresh if they're used for something warm.

Disposable plastic plates come with the advantage of being the most durable so you don't need to worry about leaks. They also come in a variety of styles and colors that can work well for a special event like a banquet or company party. You can expect to pay the most for disposable plastic plates, and some brands may not be microwavable. This disposable dinnerware option also has the most impact on the environment.