During the pandemic, single-use plastics have been falsely painted as safer alternatives to reusables, leading to a sharp uptick in disposables and even bans on reusable bags, cups, and more. For instance, during an eight-week lockdown in June of 2020, Singapore’s 5.7 million residents generated an additional 1,334 tons of plastic waste from takeout packaging and food delivery alone. This trend is echoed across the globe: Bangkok consumed 62% more plastic in April than it did 12 months earlier, primarily due to increased food delivery and takeout. Furthermore, the drop in oil prices made virgin plastic production even cheaper and more lucrative than recycled plastic.
This infographic from the Upstream Solutions' Instagram displays the magnitude of plastic pollution.
More than ever, we need to take action to combat this issue, and we’re calling on all of you to join us in Reopening with Reuse.
The Reopen with Reuse campaign is a movement started by one of our favorite plastic pollution fighters: Upstream Solutions. They’re spearheading a campaign to request that restaurants reopen with reusable foodware. Their primary demands are having the CDC change their foodservice business reopening guidance to be more reusable-friendly, giving businesses & consumers greater confidence in the safety of reusables during COVID reopening, and directly encouraging restaurants, events, and entities to reopen with non-toxic reusable foodware.
You probably know by now that these single use plastic foodware items are not recycled and create a gigantic amount of waste every year.
You are also aware that these plastics are made of oil and are directly contributing to climate change. But there’s more: plastic food packaging contains a lot of chemicals that are unsafe for human health. The Unwrapped Project explores the various chemical inputs present in plastics, and writes that among the over 4,000 chemicals that can be present in plastic packaging, 68 chemicals are particularly hazardous for the environment while 63 are particularly hazardous for human health. This number is an underestimate because most chemicals have not been adequately tested for toxicity.
Disposable plastic is supposed to end up in landfill. Here, it pollutes the air, ground, and water, and can take centuries to break down. While some materials like hard clear plastic clamshells are technically recyclable, the recycling system is deeply broken and a majority of items placed in recycling bins never even get recycled.
What about compostable to-go ware?
While this is better than plastic that won’t ever break down, materials labeled as “compostable plastics” cannot actually be composted in standard composting facilities because they require a very specific composting process. They are usually separated from other compostable materials and sent to the landfill.
Furthermore, many of these compostable plastics are accidentally placed in the recycling bin although they cannot be recycled. Likewise, paper or cardboard products soiled with oils or food can’t be recycled, they can only be composted (if they don't have plastic liners). In the end, these mistakes can contaminate an entire batch of recycling!
This image shows compostable plastic cups after a beach cleanup. Even though they're labeled as compostable/ biodegradable, they can't be processed in many composting facilities and often end up as waste. Image credit: Brian Yurasits
The harms of this wasteful process are not felt evenly.
Manufacturing of disposable materials and the polluting effects of landfills, recycling plants, and composting facilities disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. This UN report highlights the many ways that plastic production, use, and disposal harms vulnerable populations, a trend which has only worsened due to the pandemic.
Botton line: single-use materials, whether they end up in recycling, landfill, or compost, are not the solution.
The most sustainable option is reusable containers that can be used and reused in an endless cycle.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the plastics industry has pushed disposables as a safer option. The CDC food service reopening plans include suggestions that restaurants and cafes use disposable to-go ware instead of reusable cups, silverware, and dishes, to promote safety. However, this supposed safety of disposables isn’t true. This fact sheet breaks down all the myths about reusables and disposables during Covid, explaining why reusable to-go ware does not pose an additional health risk compared to disposable materials.
What can you do?
Our call to action to you is to email, call, or talk directly to your favorite cafes and restaurants and encourage them to reopen with reuse. Please ask your local businesses to allow customers to bring their own containers, which has already been allowed by public health Covid-19 guidelines in many Bay Area Counties for some time.
For example, in the Alameda County, restaurants and cafes are allowed to provide reusable foodware and encourage customers to bring in their own reusables, as long as employees don't have to handle them. You can print the document from Stop Waste and distribute it to your favorite local cafes and restaurants to inform them about county guidelines regarding reusables.
Everywhere in the US, participate in the Reusable Blitz campaign! Spread the word about cafes, restaurants, grocery stores using bulk dispensers or refill/repair/repurpose businesses (use #WeWelcomeReusables and #ReusableBlitz in your social media posts). Share educational information about reusables with businesses that do not offer these options yet, and inspire them to make the switch.
Support Upstream Solution’s Reopen with Reuse campaign on a national scale.
Sign their petition here, showing your support for the CDC to reframe its opening guidance to be more reusables friendly, for restaurants and events to reopen with reusable foodware. Once you’ve signed, you can spread the message by sharing on social media and email. Click here to share this petition on Facebook. Click here to share this petition on Twitter. Or you can send your friends this link.
Order your take-out with companies who use reusables!
Dispatch Goods is a locally-based Bay Area company that partners with local restaurants to provide reusable to-go ware and containers. They have a brilliant business model; all you have to do is order your takeout from their restaurant partners through the Dispatch Goods website, and they will prepare your takeout in reusable containers. After you finish your meal, they pick up your rinsed containers (or you can drop them off at dropoff locations, like our store in Berkeley) and they will continue the reuse cycle. They have recently expanded into the East Bay, so go check out all their restaurant partners here or ask your favorite restaurants to partner with them!
The company Sparkl also offers reuse solutions in the Bay Area, providing reusable to-go ware for stores, events, and institutions like schools. Contact them to set up reusable foodware services at your office or school!
If you don’t live in the Bay Area, there are similar businesses that are launching all over the country. For example, Zero Waste O’ahu just launched a program called Full Cycle Takeout that allows you to reuse containers from restaurants in Hawaii. Deliver Zero is an amazing business providing similar reusable to-go ware initiatives in New York City. rWare is a reusable cup and food container company that uses an app to provide reusable options at events like concerts (which will hopefully are possible again in the very near future!) all over the country.
Upstream has a directory of reuse-focused businesses (including us, of course!). You can use this directory to help you find businesses who are committed to the reusable economy and companies who have developed innovative solutions to encourage and implement reuse-systems. Check them out and support your local reuse shops!
We encourage you to take part in this campaign and help your neighborhood Reopen with Reuse!