Are Paper Plates Recyclable?
In general, paper plates are NOT recyclable, although there are a few exceptions to this rule. If the plate is used, it is definitely not recyclable, as food grease and crumbs cannot be separated from the paper in the recycling process. It is important NOT to recycle paper plates that have been contaminated by food (and other contaminated paper products, such as napkins, paper towels, tissues, food packaging) because it can contaminate an entire batch of recycling.
If the plate is coated with plastic or wax it becomes even more difficult to recycle because the coating must be separated from the paper. Styrofoam plates are the worst choice of all, as the production of styrofoam (and the recycling process) creates significant amounts of environmental toxins.
The paper plate IS recyclable if it is not contaminated by food (for example, plates you may have used for crafts that don't have glue, paint, or sticker residue). If the uncontaminated plate is coated in wax or plastic, make sure your recycler accepts mixed-paper for recycling. Clean styrofoam plates may also be recyclable, depending on whether or not your local recycling facility accepts styrofoam. Find out information about your local recycling programs at Earth911.org/recycling.
Your best choice of action is to avoid using paper plates, although there are some greener solutions. There are some great biodegradable plates out there made out of bamboo (such as those by I Spy) and other 100% biodegradable materials. These can go in the garbage and are great for your compost bin. Uncoated paper plates are also an excellent dry material for your compost bin.