I am all about recycling and reusing stuff. I try to avoid buying things that are designed to be thrown away. But I make one serious exception to this rule, and that is that I keep a good supply of paper plates, Styrofoam bowls, plastic cups, and plastic tableware. Now these items are not for any kind of long-term, end of the world as we know it type of survival scenario. My paper plates are for short term emergencies, like when there is an ice storm and the power is out for two or three days.
If you don't have paper plates during one of these short term emergencies you have, basically, just three choices about dishes:
Choice 1 - You use your dishes and pile them in the sink and hope that the power comes back on before you run out of dishes. When the power does come back on you will be faced with a sink full of dirty dishes, covered in dried out food, that have to be washed.
Choice 2 - If you live in the city and your water still works, or if you live in the country and have a generator that will power your well pump; you can rinse the dishes off in cold water. This will not adequately kill germs on the dishes, and you should not eat off of them again, but at least they won't have crud all over them. You need to set them aside and give them a real washing when the power comes back on.
Choice 3 - You can put a big pot of water on your gas or wood stove (if you have one), heat the water up, and do dishes the old time way. Not horrible, but it is kind of a pain. Especially if the power is out for a week or more, which has happened to us.
So here's what we do now. We have our supply of paper plates, cups, and etc. When the power goes out we eat a lot of stuff that doesn't require cooking. Sandwiches, cereal, fresh and canned fruit, peanut butter, cheese, canned drinks, breakfast bars, Vienna sausages, sardines, almonds, crackers, chips; that sort of thing. We turn the generator on for a couple of hours a day to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold. We eat everything off of paper plates, and throw it all away. No mess to clean up when the power comes back on.
If we just have to cook something on the stove, then we heat up a little water and wash the pots and pans the old time way. More likely we cook in our cast iron skillets which we hardly ever wash anyway. We usually just wipe them out or maybe rinse out with a little cold water.
Anyhow, lay in a supply of paper plates and you'll thank me the next time the power's off for a couple of days.