Paper decomposes at a fairly quick rate, while plastic takes longer and Styrofoam even longer. Because of this, it seems like an easy answer and perhaps it is, but consider this:
When using dishes that require cleaning, you must use detergent. "Many dishwashing detergents contain phosphate - it's a naturally occurring substance, but if too much of it gets into waterways, algae and phytoplankton feed on it and reproduce in massive numbers; causing an algal bloom."
"Phosphate isn't the only concern. Dish washing detergents can contain a myriad of chemicals. Surfactants, stability and dispensing aids, fragrances and colors, mildness additives, preservatives and antibacterial agents are sometimes added. In some cases these might be naturally occurring substances, but often they won't. Some will be toxic to aquatic organisms and likely won't be filtered out at water treatment facilities."
Something else to note is the fact that the detergent must be stored in either a box or bottle, creating waste, though obviously much less waste than disposable dishes.
The next consideration would be power usage. It takes power to wash dishes, just as it takes power to make disposable ones.
Another consideration is water use. Obviously it takes water to wash dishes, and depending on the number of dishes and frequency with which they are washed, the amount of water used will fluctuate.
Finally, at some point these dishes will be thrown away. How long would it take for plastic, metal and ceramic dishes to break down?
Any ideas on the subject? What is your opinion as to which is more environmentally responsible?
It should also be noted that I am not making an argument for either side, simply sparking discussion.