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Loose vs Dispensed Cutlery: How to Reduce Disposable Cutlery Usage By 29%

Loose vs Dispensed Cutlery: How to Reduce Disposable Cutlery Usage By 29%

Popular in most cafeterias, breakrooms, office kitchens, and other eateries, bins or dispensers are filled with disposable cutlery for guests to take and use with their meal or snack. Often not considered as a large part of your foodservice operation, disposable cutlery can be costing your business more than you think.

When disposable cutlery is placed in a bin, it can encourage visitors to take more than they need, and even allow guests to touch multiple pieces, increasing the likelihood of cross-contamination.

In this article and video, we compare bulk and dispensed cutlery.

Bulk (Loose) Cutlery 

Bulk, sometimes referred to as loose cutlery, are utensils that are placed in bins or baskets for consumers to take.


Loose cutlery typically costs less to purchase initially, but because of increased waste from contamination and unnecessary guest usage it can cost you more in the long run.


Loose Cutlery

If given the opportunity, people often take more than they require, and the same goes for disposable cutlery.

When disposable cutlery is placed in bins or baskets, consumers will take a handful of forks, knives, or spoons even when they may only need one. The increased consumption not only increases the amount of cutlery you must purchase but also the amount of plastic waste you must dispose of.


Loose cutlery tends to be placed in open cutlery bins which can be a breeding ground for bacteria. While reaching for a piece of cutlery, guests are likely touching multiple utensils in the bin, contaminating them for the next user.

Unlike napkins or plates, utensils go directly into the user’s mouth, increasing the chance of germs entering their system. Illness can affect your employees and guests. Employees will be less productive, and guests will form a negative perception of your business’ sanitation, resulting in harm to your brand reputation and lost sales.

If you choose to use a bin or basket, consider purchasing wrapped or partially wrapped cutlery. Wrapped or partially wrapped cutlery is more expensive but will help protect guests from germs and cross-contamination. Reduced contamination will help lower the chance of your employees and guests becoming ill.

Dispensed Cutlery 

Dispensed cutlery is flatware that is loaded into a cutlery dispenser.


Dispensed cutlery will cost more than loose cutlery on initial purchase but reduced consumption and less wasted product will translate into savings in the long run.


Cutlery dispensers that require the operator to manually press or pull for a fresh utensil have been shown to reduce the number of utensils they take.

One-at-a-time dispensers, like the Dixie Smartstock Dispenser, have been shown to reduce the amount of cutlery used by 29% when compared to open bins.


Cutlery dispensers minimize waste by lowering unnecessary usage from guests, reducing the amount of discarded cutlery due to contamination, and in some cases reducing the amount of plastic used.

As mentioned above, controlled dispensing systems release one utensil at a time to help minimize the amount of cutlery guests take. You will be able to purchase and dispose of less cutlery when your guests take fewer utensils, saving you money.

Like bins, dispensing systems can be paired with wrapped, partially wrapped, or unwrapped cutlery. However, enclosed dispensers can eliminate the need for wrapped cutlery by dispensing a single, fresh utensil each time. Consumers will only be touching their personal utensils, reducing the risk of spreading germs to all of the cutlery in the bin.

Utensils that are unwrapped use less plastic, resulting in less waste. For facilities who may require wrapped cutlery, consider partially wrapped cutlery.

Wrapped only at the critical end (not the handle), partially wrapped cutlery uses 60% less wrap than fully wrapped cutlery, reducing plastic waste and minimizing cross contamination.


Unlike plastic utensils thrown into a bin, dispensing units offer a more sanitary solution.

Enclosed cutlery dispensers reduce the risk of cross-contamination by reducing the number of germs or amount of dirt that comes into contact with the cutlery. When visitors do not have to select their utensil from a bin, they avoid spreading germs to any other forks, knives, or spoons.

Some flatware dispensers do not require your guests to touch or pull for a utensil, through the use of motion-sensored, touchless dispensers. If the utensil is dispensed into a bin, bins are typically detachable so they can be cleaned and disinfected.

Final Thoughts

When reviewing your foodservice program, an easy way to lower your utensil usage and costs is by considering your current disposable cutlery practices.

Dispensing units cut down on the number of utensils people take and reduce the risk of cross-contamination through their individual delivery.

If you are using a bin, wrapped cutlery will protect your utensils from coming into contact with dirt and germs, lowering the amount of cutlery you have to discard due to contamination. Although wrapped cutlery protects your utensils from germs, your facility will have more plastic to dispose of.

Both loose and dispensed disposable cutlery can be made from various materials. The most common disposable utensils are made from plastic. Plastic utensils are not typically recycled and can be driving up your disposal costs. Other types of more eco friendly disposable cutlery can be compostable and made from renewable materials like sugar cane or PLA.

Cutlery made from renewable materials offers a more sustainable option for facilities looking to lower their environmental footprint.

Additionally, compostable cutlery can reduce the amount of waste your facility is producing. Compostable products are certified to break down in commercial composting facilities.

When compostable utensils are combined with a single-use dispenser they eliminate plastic waste, reduce consumption, and help prevent cross contamination.

For more information on the best type of disposable cutlery for your business, check out our article: Comparing Different Types of Disposable Cutlery

Finding the cutlery solution that meets the needs of your customers while balancing convenience, sustainability, and price isn’t always easy. Imperial Dade locations offer a wide variety of disposable cutlery options to help reduce your costs.

If you’re located in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Caribbean, contact an Imperial Dade Specialist today for a review of your current foodservice disposable cutlery to ensure you’re using the best options.