Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Agricultural and Resource Economics

Major Professor

Kimberly L. Jensen

Committee Members

Burt English, Sreedhar Upendram, Jada Thompson


In the context of growing concern surrounding the environmental impact of single-use paper and plastic waste, demand for alternatives to conventional disposables has recently increased. This study investigates factors driving consumer preferences for ecofriendly attributes in disposable dinnerware. The study subsequently measures willingness to pay for such an alternative; specifically, dinnerware molded from wheat straw. Data was collected from an online survey of 206 Tennessee consumers aged 18 and older who consider themselves to be the primary household food shopper.

The first part of this investigation uses a Multiple Indicator Multiple Causes (MIMIC) model to estimate the effects of demographics, expenditures, and attitudes on propensity to prefer ecofriendly attributes in disposable dinnerware. The eight disposable dinnerware attributes examined include: compostable, recyclable, uses no trees, contains no plastic, USDA certified bio-based, made from an agricultural crop byproduct, made from cellulose from dedicated crops, and/or made from organically sourced cellulose. The ‘no plastic’ and ‘recyclable’ attributes were found to have the broadest appeal among consumers, while the ‘no trees’ and ‘USDA certified bio-based’ attributes had a narrower appeal and were most valued by consumers with the strongest propensities to prefer ecofriendly attributes.

The second part of this investigation measured consumer willingness to pay for disposable dinnerware molded from wheat straw, which is a byproduct of the wheat industry. A choice set was used in the survey data to elicit consumer purchasing decisions, and compared a 25-count package of wheat straw bowls to a 25-count package of conventional paper bowls. Overall, consumers were found to be willing to pay a premium of $1.33 for the wheat straw bowls. The target market estimated to most likely select the bowls molded from wheat straw is: consumers who spend more on disposable dinnerware, have previously purchased alternative fiber products, and feel a responsibility to address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

These findings provide the industry for disposable dinnerware with marketing information that may encourage them to increase offerings of dinnerware with attributes perceived to be ecofriendly. Additionally, manufacturers may use production materials that would have been otherwise burned or disposed of in a landfill.

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