Cutting boards – plastic vs. wood

First published March 2008, updated July 2011

We had been using plastic and wood cutting boards over the years and found the need to dispose of a few that were starting to get a bit icky – and guess what type we needed to bin – all plastic. The wood boards we’ve had for over a decade were and still are in very good condition.

On the plastic boards, the plastic was starting to lift – they looked terrible and more importantly, it meant that small bits of plastic were probably getting into our food.

The total weight of the cutting boards we threw out (as they couldn’t be recycled and we couldn’t find a way to repurpose some of them) came to a couple of pounds I guess. It doesn’t seem like much until you consider that millions of plastic boards are probably discarded each year – and it’s another plastic item entering the waste stream that will take hundreds of years to break down – perhaps even longer.

In addition, the plastic boards are based on petroleum products and a considerable quantity of crude oil, energy and chemicals go into making them. From what I’ve been able to research, it seems it takes just under twice the amount of crude oil to create the equivalent weight in plastic.

The concept that plastic cutting boards are a more hygienic choice appears to be somewhat misguided. This may be the case where a board is new, but over a period of time the countless score marks become havens for bacteria that cannot be easily removed through normal washing.

A healthier and greener choice – wood cutting boards

From a hygiene point of view, it’s been found that the capillary action of dry wood means bacteria are quickly sucked up and die. Wood boards are also self healing to a degree and shallow score marks in the wood will close up over time

Often cutting boards are made from the offcuts from milling operations, so they are basically a waste product that is being put to good use. If the issue of timber cutting operations is of particular concern to you; there are boards available that come from sustainable forestry operations; or if in doubt, contact manufacturers before purchase to find out how they source their wood.

Bamboo boards have also become quite popular. Bamboo is a readily renewable resource, pest resistant, can grow in poor soils and in comparison to other crops, requires little water. I have one and it’s held up well over a few years of use. Something that has been mentioned to watch out for is that as bamboo boards aren’t made from a single piece of material, they often incorporate glues that may contain formaldehyde.

Given a good wood cutting board will last far longer that a plastic one, this translates into energy savings, less oil consumption and associated environmental issues, plus you’ll save some cash as well over the long term.

I’d also much rather ingest small pieces of wood than plastic :).

To help waterproof and seal a wood cutting board (if it hasn’t already been done), making it easier to keep clean, earth friendly products such as beeswax or coconut oil can be used. Don’t use plain vegetable or cooking oil as these will turn rancid. Sealing a board will also help prevent odors from items such as onions tainting other foods. To disinfect a wooden board, use a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution or neat vinegar – simply spray it on, then wipe it off

.. and, regardless of the type of board you choose and as a food safety precaution, have separate ones for meat, fruit and vegetables, dairy and poultry.

If you’re interested in other types of cutting boards; there’s also glass and recently corn based cutting boards – a form of bioplastic – have also been made available.