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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Makeover needed for plastic utensils

Published: April 25, 2014
Section: Opinions

When I walk into Usdan to get lunch, I am inevitably annoyed by the lack of silverware and the vast array of plastic utensils. There are massive containers dedicated to dispensing plastic forks, spoons and knives one-by-one. Yet, there are tiny containers with maybe 20 or so spoons, forks and knives made of actual metal. With such a sustainability focused campus, why are there infinitely more disposable options than reusable ones?

Plasticware is, to put it simply, wasteful. There is no benefit to it besides its disposability, and that is inherently the problem. We cannot live on this planet with the mindset that single-use throwaway items are solutions. Disposability is not a solution—it’s a problem disguised as a solution, sold to the masses without a second thought as to where anything thrown away will end up. How can we live with disposable things, when our planet is irreplaceable? How can we manufacture things and design them for obsolescence, when we know that they will end up polluting the earth somewhere down the line?

As much as I believe in the permanence of things, and creating as little waste as possible, this is not the sole reason for my distaste with plastic utensils. Plastic utensils, aside from being wasteful, are functionally defunct. (Although I am not sure it’s right to call something defunct that never really worked in the first place.) If you have ever eaten anything with a plastic utensil, you should know the pain and frustration that comes with attempting to use these inadequate implements; you surely know the frustration of tines snapping off of forks, the anger that accompanies a utensil snapping in two in your hand and the sheer aggravation of trying to cut a piece of meat with a pathetically serrated plastic knife.

This begs an important question: If plasticware is bad for the environment, and functionally useless, why do we use it? Why as a society do we find its consumption acceptable? Why is there no better option?

I’d like to propose a better option. What if there was some sort of way to make real silverware more portable and accessible? I think there should be a product that makes this possible. Imagine a key ring with a fork, spoon and knife hanging from it. They’re all made of titanium, meant to last a long time, and each would have a cap or sheath covering the part of the utensil that you eat with. Perhaps the utensils could fold in half for space saving reasons, and have some sort of locking mechanism to ensure stability. All you’d need to do is rinse or wipe the utensil off before replacing the sheath, and then you’d have a clean and reusable option, portable enough to carry around with you. You could carry them on your key ring, or maybe just in your pocket, and wash it at the end of the day. Maybe there could even be some sort of anti-microbial technology built into the utensil, like in some newer ballpoint pen grips. Perhaps universities would give them out at orientation and companies would give them out upon hiring. What if we could eliminate the need for plasticware, and implement only silverware in places where these key ring utensils were forgotten? I think the world would be a happier and healthier place with this kind of option.