To get a little background information for what I am reviewing, I went to the Marx Foods website to look at the variety of plates offered, read about how they are made, and most importantly (for many people) - checked pricing.
Now, pardon me while I get a little nerdy. Given my background in environmental science and my respect for the land and sea, something new I learned and absolutely love is that these plates are made from palm leaves that have already fallen from the tree. The Adaka (or Adakka or areca nut) palm trees are not cut down, palm fronds are not cut from the trees - there is no deforestation or stripping of the trees. Tree huggers, rejoice! The collected leaves are rinsed in water, hand-washed in water and turmeric (that's right - the spice), rinsed once more in water, then allowed to air dry. In order to maximize resources, various shapes of plates and bowls are cut from each stretched and flattened palm leaf, and then heat pressed into shape. Pretty cool, right? I'd be interested in learning a little more about where the leaves are collected (the mighty Internet tells me these trees are found in the tropical Pacific, Asia and India), if fair trade/fair wages are involved in employing local residents, etc.
Just how durable are these plates? I used my plates to serve hearty helpings of teriyaki chicken and broccoli over udon noodles. The teriyaki sauce is thick and in excess, so some sauce puddles on the bottom of the plates. The plates are thicker than your standard paper plate and have a feeling similar to that of corn husks.
The first thing that I noticed was, while the plate held the weight of the meal, it began to buckle when I picked it up with one hand. My guess is that because the food was hot, the heat caused that to happen.
By the end of the meal, the plate was still in tact, and none of the sauce seeped through.
As my boyfriend - who works in industrial design - noted when he began to peel apart one of the plates, the creases in the plate are all oriented in the same direction. The interpretation here is that if the palm leaves were stacked in multiple directions prior to heat pressing (think of the way plywood/pressboard is made), they may be less likely to buckle. Since we are certainly not experts in the design or production of these plates, this is purely an educated guess.
To fill another curiosity, I decided to put a small palm leaf plate under one of my house plants to serve as a tray for excess water. These plates aren't necessarily designed to hold water, but I decided to test it anyway! The plate did warp (as expected from the information provided on the Marx Foods website), but did not leak.
So how about cost? These plates will empty your wallet a little faster than purchasing their paper or plastic counterparts. A standard dinner size plate (9.5 inches x 9.5 inches) in a pack of 25 plates is sold for $34 and a pack of 100 plates is sold for $77. Packages of salad plates (6.75 inches x 6.75 inches) sell for $31 (25 plates) and $69 (100 plates). As with most products that are harvest and produced in a sustainable and fair manner, your price supports far more than the tangible product you hold in your hand. Similarly, the cheap price you pay for traditional foods and products excludes the environmental cost the production of that food or product has on our environment and resources. While I can say for certain that I would not be willing to purchase these plates every time I have a backyard BBQ, I would certainly consider them for other special occasions. They would be great for a rustic or country themed wedding, particularly when compared to the cost of rentals, a fun little wine and cheese party with your girlfriends, to carry a shared dish to a potluck, etc. Sadly, these plates aren't made to be re-used, so that makes the cost hurt a bit more.
Overall, the palm leaf plates are durable in the sense that they don't leak, but depending on the heat of the food, the plates may warp a little. The cost is higher than the typical disposable product, but is created in a far more sustainable manner. Since palm leaf plates are compostable, I rinsed the excess sauce from the plates, and into the compost they'll go in the morning. I'm eager to see how long they last before beginning to break down!