Bay Area Local Governments Working Together on Solutions to Throw-Away

Recently, UPSTREAM partnered with the County of San Mateo’s Office of Sustainability to host the Next Gen Foodware Ordinances Workshop: A Policy Lab for Local Government in Foster City, California. The event was co-sponsored by the San Francisco Department of the Environment, STOPWASTE, Clean Water Action and the Ecology Center.

Filled to capacity, the workshop provided an opportunity to share best practices and resources for Bay Area local governments as they tackle ever-growing amounts of garbage impacting city systems and quality of life.

Local governments throughout the country including California have ever-growing incentives to reduce their garbage and single-use plastic. With China’s Sword Policy - cheap plastics - once an income stream for cities is now a liability that has nowhere to go in California except pile up at transfer stations or end up in the landfill. To-go coffee cups and to-go food boxes are in the top 12 plastic pollution items found in California’s environment.

To minimize the use of landfills and protect their waterways and coast, California has also enacted important environmental laws. These laws include a local government statutory goal of diverting 75% of waste from landfill. Furthermore, they are required to end trash discharges to stormwater systems and local waterways. Right now, despite a very robust statewide recycling program, local government and taxpayers are shouldering the enormous cost of cleaning trash out of stormwater systems and preventing it from getting in, via street sweeping and other litter management.  These compliance mandates plus the public pressure to end the huge increase in single-use plastics implore California’s local governments to take action.

Finding ways to reduce to-go foodware and the other most common plastic pollution items is more important than ever for local government now. Informing potential solutions, the State of Oregon Composters just released a report asking residents NOT to put their compostable foodware in the compost because of contamination, toxic chemical and other impacts.

At the end of the workshop, participants were united in the opinion that the Bay Area needs a path forward to incorporate reusable foodware into food service - both for on-site and take-out food service, including online food ordering. Recognizing that if reusable to-go cups and boxes are to replace disposables, the systems have to be convenient. Participants talked about creating a regional model for reusable cup and box sharing. They agreed that convenient access to pick up and drop off locations would be key to the success of reusables for take-out.

As a result of the event, UPSTREAM’s Miriam Gordon has organized a Bay Area local government working group dedicated to developing a regional reusable cup and container program. This model is based off of models in some German cities where all of the coffee shops use the same reusable to-go coffee cup. If you forget your reusable cup, you can take one on deposit and return it to any coffee shop within the city. This concept is also a model for to-go boxes. When you eat at a restaurant, if you do not finish your food, you can take a reusable to-go box and return the box to many locations throughout the city, perhaps even at your curbside. The opportunity for job creation and business creation with new reuse systems and businesses is a bonus.

Model policies such as the first-in-world Berkeley ordinance co-authored by Gordon, were also presented and can serve as a foundation for a successful reuse system and/or businesses. The Berkeley ordinance ends the use of single-use foodware for on-site dining so if you are dining in, you’re eating on real plates with real silverware and real cups. The great news is, based on case studies from Clean Water Action’s Rethink Disposable program, the restaurants will end up saving money by moving away from throw-away and single-use to reuse. The Berkeley policy will also phase in charges for to-go coffee cups and to-go boxes creating the environment for a new system and/or reuse businesses to fill a need.

To learn more about the conference, visit the County of San Mateo’s Sustainability Office website.