What the SF is a Reusable Foodware Ordinance?

True solutions that work for communities are created by communities.

We started a disposable-free dining ordinance in Berkeley, and then the California cities of San Anselmo and Watsonville followed. Now we're expanding to US cities everywhere! Next stop…. San Francisco.

UPSTREAM is working with community groups and local food businesses, and a group of San Francisco supervisors to get real about reusables. We’ve helped Supervisor Aaron Peskin develop an ordinance that proposes that restaurants ditch disposable packaging, such as cups, and cutlery for serving customers on-site. The ordinance proposes a mandatory 25 cent charge for single-use take-out cups and food containers to encourage the use of refillable and reusable alternatives. And for on-line orders, customers have to specifically request single-use utensils, napkins, straws and condiment packaging- no more giving people stuff that they likely don’t need.

What the SF does this mean for the City of San Francisco? ‍



This legislation will build a truly indisposable city that saves money by reducing its litter cleanup costs. It also keeps more money in the pockets of local business owners, because switching to reusable foodware is good for business. When a retail food business ditches disposables and invests in real materials that can be used over & over, they save money. We know. We have the data. Over 200 businesses in the Bay Area have saved between $500 and $150,000 per year by voluntarily reducing single-use and bringing reusables into their food services. In addition, the mandatory 25 cent charges mean that instead of giving out single-use containers for free, vendors will be recouping their costs and will have more money to provide reusables to their customers.

With a 25 cent charge on to-go cups and containers, reusables will be cheaper.  Here’s why. Say you get a to-go coffee once a day, a $15 reusable coffee cup you pay for once will pay for itself after 2 months after that, you are saving money every time you use the $15 up.

Single-use grocery bag charges of only 5 to 10 cents have had as much as a 90% success rate in getting people to bring a reusable alternative. That’s why we think these cup and container charges will work.


If enacted, this ordinance means food businesses will stop investing in products that depend on big oil and plastic production, deforestation, and the use of pesticides, fertilizers, water and energy to grow corn and other plants for bioplastics. It will eliminate all these forever planet impacts to make cups, containers, and utensils that are used for just a few minutes.


Peer-reviewed scientific research shows that even very low levels of exposure to the hundreds of hormone disrupting and carcinogenic chemicals used in disposable packaging, the more prone we are to infertility, autism, cancer, lower IQs, attention deficit, and more. Women are not the only ones at risk for reproductive issues, as the chemicals used in plastic packaging have proven to lower sperm county and male fertility. Cities that make throw-away abnormal and  reusable cups, containers, and cutlery the norm empower the public health of its people.

4) CLEANER SPACES: Lose the litter by ditching disposables.

Now that Asia is refusing America’s dirty plastic and paper, our cities are confronting a waste crisis. The truth is that most of what we exported as “recyclables” weren’t in fact recyclable - the U.S. was just shipping its low-value, contaminated materials to Asia. Now they are refusing to be our dumping ground.

Very little food and beverage packaging is actually recyclable. Only #1 PET bottles, and some #5 packaging. And when paper is contaminated with greasy food, it’s also not recyclable.  

So how do we manage an endless stream of a packaging that hasn’t really been designed for recycling, much of which will last forever after just one use?

Making foodware compostable isn’t necessarily an answer. Most bioplastics are no longer being accepted by many commercial compost facilities because they don’t degrade quickly enough. We have learned that many of the paper products are contaminated with fluorinated chemicals that are toxic to human health and contaminate our food and beverages, as well as the compost to which they are added. And the truth is that paper and bioplastic adds no nutrient value to compost- it dilutes it and decreases its value. Food and yard waste makes good compost- packaging doesn’t.

So if  recycling and composting are not great options for most types of food and beverage packaging, what’s left? Reduce and Reuse!

Decreasing the demand for disposables means less plastic and therefore less fossil fuel production that propels climate change and less plastic in the ocean.  

Talk to your friends, neighbors,  and favorite restaurants about protecting environmental and public health, the local economy, and your community by ditching disposables. And talk to your local legislators about enacting similar measures to the Berkeley ordinance. Here's to building indisposable communities!