Phase out disposables

Why we must stop using single use plastic and disposables:

Plastic is everywhere. Useful and convenient, it’s also a massive problem. The UK is unable to deal with the colossal five million tons of plastic we use every year,1 so much of the UK’s plastic waste is exported to be ocean-dumped or burned overseas.2 This seriously affects the health3 of those living near landfill sites and has catastrophic consequences for our oceans. One hundred million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic waste dumping;4 it is estimated that a truckload of plastic enters the ocean every single minute.5 Plastics made from fossil fuels also contribute 3.8% of all global Greenhouse Gases contributing to global warming. To stop this, we must use less plastic in the first place.

What about biodegradables?

Bioware are plastics made from renewable vegetation, sugars and starch. Unfortunately these are problematic for several reasons. They are grown at the expense of using land for food production; they are carbon-intensive to produce and require highly specialised, expensive industrial composters to break them down. In reality only a relatively small percentage are processed correctly.6 The vast majority are incinerated or end up in landfill or the ocean. Biodegradables can start to degrade on contact with water and bacteria, so left in the wrong place they can be a health hazard. It can take 3-5 years for biodegradables to degrade in seawater, causing serious harm to sea life in that time.7

The UK Government intends to ban single-use plastic within two years. The United Synagogue wants to be prepared and ahead of the curve, ending our reliance on plastic far sooner than that. Shuls which have already stopped using disposables have generally found it a cost-neutral endeavour, when balancing the cost of staff to wash up against buying disposables. Kiddushim look smarter and more appealing when proper crockery is used and can attract environmentally conscious members. Using detergents and dishwashers is much more environmentally friendly than using biodegradables at the present time and indeed in the foreseeable future.


How we will transition to ‘no disposables’:

  • We would like communities to join us in establishing a new cultural norm of ‘no disposables’ within the US, by ShabbatUK, in May 2022.

  • We recognise that communities have a variety of resources – property, storage, money – which affect whether they can make a total transition to ‘no disposables’ at this time.

  • Work with communities/head office and nurseries between January - May, to ensure they are supported in equipping themselves with permanent crockery. 

  • Provide communities with information on where unused disposables can be donated.

  • Provide halachic guidance on tovelling, use of old crockery, washing up on Shabbat etc.

  • Many communities have existing crockery that could be used.  Some might need to supplement and some might need to buy from scratch; in some communities members are keen to donate towards this purchase.

  • US Centre will provide a training video on how to establish and run disposables-free community life, including supplier and food choices, selection and packing of gifts, minimising plastic waste and volunteer/staff time.

  • US Centre will purchase permanent crockery and cutlery for an internal gemach, for use at centrally-run US events.


The target date to transition to ‘no disposables’ is May 2022, in line with ShabbatUK. Let’s make ShabbatUK extra special by respecting our environment and all the life on it.


A thought from Rabbi David Mason

A number of our communities are stopping the use of single use plastic disposables in their community spaces, which is great news. But this is a move that we can all get behind, whether in our communities, or in our homes. By using plastic utensils and cutlery, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, we are contributing more to the dumping of plastic into our oceans and the endangering of species that live in those very oceans.  

A first point I would make here would be that the possibility of plastic ending up endangering and possibly killing sea species goes against a well-known Jewish commandment to desist from being cruel to animals. In fact cruelty to animals is understood to be part of the ‘Noachide Code’ that is binding on humanity as a whole. Yes, there may not be direct harm to an animal when I buy plastic plates from a shop; but given that the climate crisis is a global one, I think we need to look more globally when we consider halacha, Jewish Law. The danger may be taking place thousands of miles away; but I am part of encouraging it.  

A second point here is to reflect on why we have become so reliant on plastics in the first place. Often the use of disposables is in order to allow the possibility of another positive Jewish value, hospitality. We want many guests around our table, and this will involve a great deal of washing or clearing up. What better than to use plastic disposables that can be cleared up in a flash! So we need to consider the use of plastics as a moral cost, in our desire to be hospitable. So I wonder if we can be satisfied with having less numbers over to our house. Hospitality is not about numbers and quantity, it is about inviting people to spend quality time with us.  

Thirdly, we should mention the Jewish prohibition of ‘bal tashchit’ or not wasting or destroying which finds its roots in the Torah. Using plastic disposables only for them to be immediately discarded with no possibility for recycling takes its place in a culture where waste is considered acceptable. In fact, I wonder if we need to reflect as Jewish people on our consumption in general. Whether it is of food, of disposables, or even of car or plane travel, thinking smaller may well allow us to ensure that our core values remain in tandem with the protection of our world.


  2. ’Recycling: Where is the plastic waste mountain?’, BBC Reality Check investigation, 1 January 2019:
  3. ’Recycling: Where is the plastic waste mountain?’, BBC Reality Check investigation, 1 January 2019: