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No plastic here – eco-friendly outdoor tableware

Plastic plates are practical for camping and picnics…and horrible. So, we’ve been looking at alternatives. Metal tends to be the backpacking option, but there are also  some innovative materials for more environmentally-friendly dinnerware and picnic tableware.

Enamel, wheatstraw, bamboo, corn, rhubarb (just kidding on that last one). Here’s what we’ve come up with for green outdoor eating.

Latest update: October 2020

Metal camping plates and enamelware

The best choice is metal for long-lasting, non-plastic camping dinnerware.

But if chalk on blackboards and tines on tin set your teeth on edge (I love to torture my sister this way), read further for wheatstraw, bamboo and other beautiful alternatives.

 

UPDATE: We tried Summit’s lovely-looking copper-coloured plates. They’re one to avoid as the colour comes off almost immediately.

Vintage plates

Lovely for lots of reasons! Etsy has a huge range of unusual and gorgeous enamelware plates, bowls and more. You’ll find some real bargains if you want something a bit different.

Coloured plates, retro designs, tiffin tins and more. You’ll find plenty that have never been used.

Thali plates

Here’s an idea. Stainless steel divided plates, originally intended for Indian thali meals, but could be a clever camping plate option.

Also look at the nicely flat thali trays. The smaller ones make great camping tableware.

Traditional camping enamelware

Those white-with-blue-rim plates and bowls or the old-fashioned black-and-speckled enamelware have a lovely traditional camping look. They last well and the occasional chip on the edge is a badge of honour for many campers!

Highlander’s enamelware bowls and plates come in blue and green too. Just £3 for a bowl.

Love Mud’s camping plates are under £7 for two.

Falcon enamelware plates (around £4 each) or £40 for this four-piece set. They’re supremely hardwearing. They’ve been making these products since 1920. Lots more in their range.

Highlander’s enamelware set is as traditional as they come. Around £10 for a mug, bowl and plate.

Beautiful enamelware

Stunning enamelware in a range of designs based on porcelain plates, wallpaper and museum pieces. Believe it or not, these are only around £6 each. They’d make great presents. Talking of which, I’ll add them to our guide to good camping gifts!

Titanium for lightweight strength

You have to cope with having the word ‘Keith’ on the side of your plates (which is great if you’re called Keith, of course). 

These titanium plates, though, are affordable, very light and come in seven sizes (£9 to £20).

Tin mugs

No shortage of enamel mugs in the world. And plenty with a camping theme. This one comes in eight different VW campervan designs.

Wooden plates and bowls

Thanks to a couple of readers for the reminder that wood is a rather lovely material for plates and bowls. Lightweight and almost unbreakable too.

 

Amy R. started using wooden plates as part of her live action role-playing, but even not so live-action campers could benefit from wood’s beauty! She allayed my fears about it being difficult to maintain too, saying it could be washed and even scrubbed with no problem.

Go for rustic or elegant…both are stunning. Etsy is a good place to look for handmade plates and bowls and for nice vintage teak plates.

I bought this pretty spoon from FishElkDog on Etsy, by the way. It’s a delight to use and one of my favourite kitchen and camping things.

Kupilka – eco tableware from Finland

Made from a natural fibre composite and great, there are bowls, cups, cutlery and more in this range.

They’re light, won’t get hot enough to burn your fingers and can even be put in a dishwasher after your camping trip. 

A choice of colours and prices from around £5. Plus everything is made from the company’s own biomaterial with EKOenergy for a zero carbon footprint.

A good range at Outdoor Gear.

Zuperzozial bamboo tableware

Zuperzozial’s huge range of bamboo and corn crockery includes everything you could dream of and in lovely colours. There are bowls, snack plates, boxes and more. Plain and pretty patterned options too. 

 

We tried several Zuperzozial pieces and liked them a lot. The flat plates are great. The black is not such a great choice as it seems to mark easily. Note that the lidded boxes are not airtight, by the way. This is one the best options for bamboo crockery if you want the choice from a wide range of tableware. Here are some of our favourites.

 Zuperzozial Dawn plates in two colourways. Around £30 for six.

 Dawn bowls in different sizes

A pretty (and big) botanic bamboo bowl

 Deep plates in lovely colours. Around £7

DNA dessert plates cost around £6. Lots more in this range too.

Creative Tops

Wild bowls, plates and more. Lovely and affordable too. From £12 for the tray.

Magu camping bowls 

A range of rather nice and very interesting  bamboo, corn and wood fibre plates, bowls, trays and more in cream, rose, yellow or grey. And…from just £2 upwards.

Vango bamboo sets

We really like Vango’s bamboo dinner sets, but they also do lots of plainer designs too. The one above is around £35.

Bobo and Boo

No longer just for kids. Bobo and Boo do pretty bamboo sets for children in pastel colours, but also adult-size plates. Not dear either.

Washable, all-natural storage bags made of…paper

These are amazing. Gorgeous washable paper bags in a range of colours and sizes, made of natural material (cellulose and latex). Tear-resistant, ironable, sewable, printable, embossable and washable up to 40°C.

Store your bread in them, your toys, make them into flowerpots…well, leave us a comment below of how you’d use them and we might just send you one!

And here’s the environmental lowdown

Plastic

Bad because it’s made from petrochemicals and because, at the end of its life, it’s just un-get-riddable-of litter (it messes up the sea, the beaches, the woodlands and almost every UK roadside…perhaps not the plates, but you see what we mean.) France is banning plastic plates and cups. Hooray! Melamine is a nasty blend of chemicals.

Palm leaves

From the areca palm and makes sturdy plates with very little processing. Some companies gather fallen palm fronds, sanitise them and press them into plates, no glue or glazes. Palm leaf plates are compostable. They do have to be imported, though (but doesn’t much of our plastic come from overseas?)

Bamboo

Grows very fast so it’s very renewable. Again, though, it does have to be shipped in. Disposable bamboo plates can be composted, though they take a few months to break down. If you’ve got a choice, go for minimally processed, organic plates.

Tapioca starch

Made from cassava roots and creates a Styrofoam-like material that’s biodegradable and compostable.

Sugarcane

Plates are made from the fibre left over after the sugar sap is pressed out. They’re naturally brown, so white ones will have been bleached. The material is also called bagasse, by the way.

Corn starch ‘plastic’

Might seem like a better choice than petrochemical-derived plastic, but it doesn’t compost or break down. It has to be sent to a commercial composting facility – and there aren’t many of those around. Better than the petrochemical version, though.

Olpro husk camping tableware

Not terribly pretty, but affordable and practical and made from rice grain husks. Around £10 for a set of four large dinner plates. Plus bowls. Don’t bother with the containers from the range as they’re not airtight.

Shop With Green wheatstraw picnicware

A huge range of plates, bowls and more made from wheatstraw. Unbreakable, lightweight and very affordable. Four good-sized plates for £18, for example.

Grown-up dinnerware made of bamboo

For something quite elegant, we like this £35 dinner set by Lekoch. They also do plainer, though still interesting, sets. Eight items included.

Morgiana do interesting dinner sets too. This textured range comes in blue, green or beige. Eight items for around £36.

Angela Harding

For something beautiful and very special, artist Angela Harding’s bamboo plates are fabulous. She’s a fine artist based in Rutland (the smallest county in the UK). They’re around £10 each, which is amazing considering the price of the mass-produced ones. They’re dishwasher safe but not for microwaving.

angela-harding_bamboo-plate_pack_blackbird_2048x2048

And disposable?

Palm leaf and natural bamboo are actually reusable for quite a while before you need to replace them. They’re a good biodegradable alternative to plastic.

 

 Palm leaf gives you a really wide range of ‘crockery’ that’s nice-looking (our preferred option). Palm leaf can be reused and can even be used in ovens and microwaves (but not over flames!).

And there are also bamboo plates and cutlery that are made of the bamboo itself rather than ground-up and reformed.

Loads to choose from in palm tableware. Some nice designs too.

Bamboo travel set

We’ve just come across this neat little travel kit. It’d be a great present, wouldn’t it? Cutlery, chopsticks, straws and cleaning brush in a folding pouch – all made from bamboo. Around £12 for two.

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6 Comments

  1. I’ve been picking up some very nice classic vintage white and blue enamel plates and dishes from Etsy over the past few months. You can find plates and bowls often in sets of two for less than £10 if you keep a regular eye on the site. They are so much nicer to eat off than plastic, weigh very little and, add some retro charm to a camping trip.

  2. I’m really keen to buy some wooden tableware for our camper, but I can’t find anything on Etsy that isn’t disposable? If anyone (maybe Geoff?) has recommendations for where to look for long last wooden plates, bowls, etc, I’d be very grateful! ED: I’m really surprised you couldn’t find anything. I got some lovely spoons from Etsy and a quick search on wooden plates brought up lots of choices. This is where I looked: https://tidd.ly/3lNJu5h. But if anyone has more ideas, do let Joanna know.

  3. I’m on the hunt for some new plates and it’s great to see some plastic free options which also look lovely. When I’m on a longer camp, o like to set up a camp kitchen in the awning of our campervan. I’d use one of the paper bags to store all of my dry plates and bowls, or perhaps some baguettes?

  4. Metal is the way to go.

  5. Nice to see an article promoting sustainable products, but why no mention of Etsy UK for turned (or carved) wooden bowls? They are more expensive than some of these products, but are easily the most sustainable as the wood can usually be found locally and the energy in creating them is virtually zero especially if done using green woodworking techniques (pole lathe etc). Wood also has the advantage of keeping your food hotter for longer and the only real disadvantages are that it can’t be used in a dishwasher or microwave, and that doesn’t hold much relevance for camping?! I know of plenty of makers in the UK if you want more info? ED: Thanks so much, Geoff. That’s a really good point. Wooden bowls are really gorgeous and I love the idea of travelling around popping in at workshops to buy from local craftspeople. I think many people will imagine that wood is hard to clean and keep nice if it’s being used for chillis, stews and so on. Perhaps we just need to get a bit more in tune with natural materials. Etsy is a fantastic place to look for handcrafted and unusual plastic-free items too.

  6. Plastic is only considered unsuitable because of the current disposal issue. But this is easily solved by incineration linked to powder production – an environmental win. Current technology is clean an it could be used to dispose of the old bamboo/corn plates as well.

    I have a mix of bamboo, plastic and melamine cups, so far it looks like those bamboo mugs will end up in the dump long before the plastic/melamine.

    If they do not last as long they are not environmentally friendly. ED: Thanks for the interesting viewpoint, Frank. Realistically, as things stand at the moment, we don’t have the recycling or repurposing/processing facilities needed to cut plastic waste. Let’s hope we do in the near future. For now, though, the only thing to do is to cut plastic use. It’s not only a litter and landfill issue, but is also about the enormous use of petrochemicals. The fact that plastic lasts in your mugs is, in fact, exactly the problem. As you can see from the diagram at the top of the article, plastic is with us forever! While we’re not naive enough to think bamboo and corn ‘plastics’ are perfect (they still need to be manufactured and still need to be disposed of with care), they will disappear eventually. We would never used melamine – “The FDA has concluded from its own assessment that the safety risk is low and within acceptable levels, but they do caution the use of melamine dishes…Never use melamine in the microwave, unless it is clearly marked ‘microwave safe’. Acidic foods also increase the risk, especially when heated.”

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