Mount Shasta’s Cheryl Boerger is saving the planet, one plate at a time. As a community service, she provides reusable plates, cutlery and glasses for various events, fundraisers and meetings in California and Oregon – and she does it all free of charge.
Since founding Plates for People and the Planet nearly seven years ago, Cheryl estimates she has prevented more than a quarter million plastic or paper items from ending up in a landfill. It also saves the resources used to make disposable items. A Stanford Alumni study shows that it takes about 8 gallons of water to make a single paper plate. In contrast, it takes only 3 to 6 gallons of water to wash an entire load of regular dishes, either by hand or in the dishwasher. When her plates are used instead of disposables, Cheryl says she’s seen functions go from a dumpster full of trash to just one bag.
Last year, Cheryl was recognized by the Boulder, Colorado-based public radio station eTown with an eChievement award, which honors “true everyday heroes: folks who are helping to make their communities a better place.”
Cheryl says she realized the need for such a service after attending and volunteering at numerous community events. After cleaning up, she says dumpsters would routinely be overflowing with waste, including paper plates, plastic silverware and Styrofoam cups.
“Then I thought about all the heavy duty trash bags with paper plates stuffed inside them. They’d just sit in a landfill and never decompose. I thought about all that trash being made by such well-intentioned people,” she says.
That’s when Cheryl decided to do something about the problem, and began purchasing plates online. She now has enough plates to serve 180 people with matching white dinner, salad and dessert plates. She also offers bowls, silverware, beer glasses, wine glasses and coffee cups. If it’s not necessary for the settings to match, about 400 people can be served.
“Many of the dishes are Corelle so they look pretty and are lightweight and non-porous, making them easy to transport, wash and keep clean,” she says. “I never in my wildest dreams imagined that my little idea would be this successful. There are so many fundraisers in our community that support so many wonderful causes, and this is my community service to them.”
Over the years, Cheryl has spent several thousand dollars of her own money on the project, but she considers it all worth it when she looks at the benefits of working with reuseable items.
Many nonprofits and organizations, as well as private parties and weddings, take advantage of Cheryl’s plates. “Brides-to-be sometimes call a year in advance to reserve them,” Cheryl says. Though there is no cost to use the service, items should be returned washed and in the bins they went out in. Donations are gratefully accepted to increase inventory.
Cheryl says, “I am more than happy to help other people and communities get a similar program started and I encourage them to seek grants that could possibly fund such an endeavor.”
Plates for People inspired Southern Oregon Master Recyclers in Action (SOMRA) to develop their own program in Ashland called “Lend Me A Plate.” Their mission is to promote and facilitate the practice of zero waste. Together with the City of Ashland and their local waste hauler, Recology, Inc., they hope to be up and running this summer.
Bob Altaras with SOMRA says, “I learned about Cheryl from the manager of our local co-op market. Not only has she been an inspiration, but she has laid the groundwork for our project – saving us from learning by mistake. It’s going to take a bunch of us to equal Cheryl’s energy and determination. I’m not sure we would be attempting this without her support and guidance.”
If you would like more information or to make a reservation with Plates for People and the Planet, call Cheryl at (530) 926-0304.