RSN Fundraising Banner
The California City That's Working to Eliminate Disposable Food Packaging
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=50391"><span class="small">Erin McCormick, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Monday, 06 January 2020 09:32

McCormick writes: "The next time Charles Bunch goes on a coffee break without his reusable coffee mug, he knows he's going to pay for it."

UC Berkeley students Mary Carmen Reid and Derek Popple enjoy coffee at Caffe Strada, a business that offers the Vessel program. (photo: Erin McCormick/The Guardian)
UC Berkeley students Mary Carmen Reid and Derek Popple enjoy coffee at Caffe Strada, a business that offers the Vessel program. (photo: Erin McCormick/The Guardian)

The California City That's Working to Eliminate Disposable Food Packaging

By Erin McCormick, Guardian UK

06 January 20

Berkeley’s new law targeting throwaway food packaging requires customers to go reusable or pay a fee

he next time Charles Bunch goes on a coffee break without his reusable coffee mug, he knows he’s going to pay for it.

On 1 January, the city of Berkeley, California, where Bunch works, rolled out the nation’s most comprehensive law to fight throw-away food packaging. The groundbreaking new rules require restaurants and cafes to charge 25 cents for each disposable cup, make all to-go containers compostable and, starting in July, use reusable foodware, such as porcelain dishes, for customers who are dining in.

Bunch, a stationary engineer, supports the change. “Anything we can do to reduce plastic waste is great,” he said during a visit to Berkeley’s Caffe Strada in December, a few days before the strict new rules kicked in. Brunch was holding a disposable cup, but said: “Next time, I’m going to bring my own.”

The move is an ambitious attempt to break America’s throwaway habits, which local officials hope will take off nationally. Sophie Hahn, the Berkeley city council member who authored the legislation, notes that the city’s residents throw out an estimated 40m disposable cups each year.

“Everybody understands, we have to make these changes for our planet and our community,” she said. “We fed ourselves and hydrated without throwaway containers for millennia, and we can do it again.”

While many people think that “paper” coffee cups are recyclable or compostable, they are, in fact, lined with plastic, which makes recycling or composting them nearly impossible.

With the increasing push by environmentalists to do away with single-use packaging, several cafes and restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area have already ditched disposable cups altogether. At Perch Coffee House in Oakland, customers can pay a deposit to take their coffee in a glass jar. And at Michelin-starred San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn’s cafe, slated to open this year, customers who want coffee to go will have to bring their own cups.

Meanwhile the international coffee company Blue Bottle, which has pledged to make all of its US cafes “zero waste” by the end of 2020, recently announced it will pilot a single-use cup ban at several Bay Area sites, with customers required to bring their own reusable cups or pay a deposit to borrow one.

“Single-use packaging is clearly damaging our planet,” said Bryan Meehan, the CEO of Blue Bottle, in a December letter announcing the program. “Plastic water bottles, plastic coffee cups, straws, food packaging, bags – all are bought and thrown away in an endless cycle of thoughtless consumption.”

Another innovative solution has been the Vessel reusable cup program, which operates a bit like a library for coffee cups. Available in nine cafes in Berkeley so far, patrons can sign up to borrow chic, stainless steel cups that can be kept for up to five days and then returned for washing. The program is free, but anyone who forgets to return a cup gets charged $15.

In a cafe on the UC Berkeley campus, freshman Ella Connor was already enjoying the benefits of her Vessel cup in December, as she studied for a final in her molecular biology class on plagues and pandemics with her steel cup in front of her. She signed up to use the program when it started in September.

Studying for the final was hard, she said. But, thanks to the program, saving disposal cups was “super easy”.

How many cups had she saved so far?

“I don’t know,” she said. “I might have to pull up a calculator. Probably a lot.”

At the next table, her roommate Natalie Kemper, who was studying for her math final, already had her calculator out.

“How many cups of coffee do we have every week, maybe three or four? About 15 a month,” said Kemper, a freshman, who also uses the Vessel program. “So we’ve already each saved 60 cups, ballpark. Wow.”

Daryl Ross, the owner of Caffe Strada and four of the other nine cafes that are spearheading the Vessel program in Berkeley, says he has received positive feedback about the program from customers so far.

“I have always been interested in the impact a business can make on the community and even the world,” Ross said. “We have struggled with ways to limit disposables/compostables. Vessel offers a great way to offer reusables at no extra cost to customers with the convenience of disposables.”

Berkeley’s law is the first of what environmental activists hope will be a new wave of legislation banning wasteful packaging for food products. Other California cities and the EU are set to launch similar single-use bans.

“This is the next policy progression,” said Miriam Gordon of Upstream, a national not-for-profit seeking solutions to plastic pollution. “First there were [plastic] bag bans; then it was styrofoam; the next big thing is disposable foodware.”

Hahn said that McDonald’s approached her soon after she proposed the law, seeking an exemption due to the fact that its packaging is normally uniform throughout the nation.

“I told them that, if mom-and-pops can do it, they can do it,” Hahn said, so even McDonalds will be required to serve on reusable plates.

Back at Caffe Strada, ditching the throwaway lifestyle seemed to be catching on. “It’s great that we’re all moving on from the 50s idea of consumption,” said Heidi Yang, a UC Berkeley sophomore in environmental biology, who showed up for a campus coffee break with her Cal Bears mug and a stainless steel water bottle.

Derek Popple, a UC Berkeley chemistry and physics graduate student, came for a coffee with a friend carrying his own mug. It read: “PhD taking your BS to a new level.”

He said he doesn’t mind bringing his own, but he had to take some extra time measuring the mug, worried that he might not get as much coffee. “I’ll be in a bad mood for the rest of the day,” he said. your social media marketing partner
Last Updated on Monday, 06 January 2020 09:41