Green Event Guidelines: Sustainable Serviceware

What are the most sustainable types of plates, cups, and cutlery that I should use for my event?

As of 2016, Cornell University all food scraps recycling in Tompkins County no longer accepts 'compostable' dishware.  Read more about the decision here and here, and how this change will increase the success and sustainability of our compost as a campus and community.  Questions about compost or waste management? Contact the R5 team.

Best Choice: Reusable Dishware

Purchase reusable dishware, or use a "wash and return" service. Durable, reusable dishware remains the best choice, both environmentally and economically.  Although this is partly because of the immediate waste that is caused by using disposable products, the majority of the carbon footprint of disposable dishware is created before it is even bought. 88% of a product's sustainability comes from it's production, and only 18% in how it is managed at the end of first use (link). the biggest environmental impact of disposable dishware/utensils is due to the material of which they are composed. For stats and figures on reusable vs disposable dishware, click here.

Try Cornell Catering ( for on-campus needs, or The Ithaca Dish Truck which is a non-profit, pollution prevention effort in our community which supplies durable dishes in place of disposable dishware to events both on and off the Cornell campus.  To contact the Ithaca Dish Truck for your event, email Joey Diana Gates at, or call (607)644-5525. For more information:

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Impacts of different disposable dishware materials

Alternative #1: High Recycled Content

If you must use disposable serviceware at your event, try to find serviceware with the highest percentage of recycled content.  However, your needs or values may be different depending on the event, or the sustainability values of your department or organization. Click here for more information on the pros and cons of different types of disposable dishware from the City of Portland website.

Additionally, if your serviceware is made up of recyclable material, make sure that it ends up in the recycling bin at the end of the day.

Alternative #2: Offset Your Emissions

Offsetting is the process of helping to support a project which reduces the equivalent amount of carbon emissions your event produced.

The Finger Lakes Climate Fund
The Finger Lakes Climate Fund offers the option of purchasing local carbon offsets for businesses and special events. The carbon footprint of disposable dishware varies widely depending on the material (paper, plastic, Styrofoam, etc.) and the method of disposal (landfill, incineration, recycling). If you are looking to offset only the impact of disposable goods, a good rule of measurement is to offset six pounds of carbon dioxide for every one pound of plastic, or 6.4 pounds of paper plate.  Note that while the Finger Lakes Climate Fund provides ready-made calculators for offsetting travel and trips, a calculator does not exist for events. Instead the price of the offset can be estimated at $25 per ton (2000 lbs) of CO2, so for every 100lbs of carbon dioxide emissions you could donate $1.25. Please create your best estimate before inquiring about a quote for offsets from their facility.

For more information, email or call (607)272-1720 |