Maybe you’ve noticed that reducing waste has been a bigger challenge since Covid-19 hit. In addition to disposable PPE (personal protective equipment) and disinfectant wipes, your home might now host a stash of plastic bags, a bin stuffed with packing materials, and a collection of plastic cutlery. It’s that last pandemic side effect that Skip the Stuff is determined to change.
The national campaign, which was launched in January by environmental nonprofit Upstream’s National Reuse Network, aims to ensure that food ware isn’t an automatic addition to your takeout orders. It’s a continuation of efforts that began in a few cities prior to the pandemic and have become more relevant in the aftermath of Covid-19.
“During the pandemic, the ability to move forward really comprehensive food-packaging-reduction laws became quite challenging, because food-service businesses were so heavily impacted,” says Miriam Gordon, Upstream’s San Francisco-based policy director. “No legislator wanted to make really sweeping changes for food-service providers, but so much more delivery — takeout and delivery — had been happening during the pandemic, and everybody started to recognize that.”
Ideally, food-ware-by-request legislation cuts down on unwanted plastics for the consumer while sparing restaurants the cost associated with providing utensils, napkins, and condiment packets for every order they receive. In some places, like Los Angeles, this is a single targeted action. Elsewhere, like in Washington, D.C., and the state of Washington, food ware by request is part of more comprehensive waste-reduction legislation.
Just prior to Earth Day 2021, the Los Angeles City Council voted to make single-use food ware available only by request for takeout and delivery.
The ordinance was supported by local restaurants, Grubhub, and the California Restaurant Association, in addition to environmental groups. Cutting down on the plastics helps alleviate the financial burden restaurants have suffered from during the pandemic.
For more than 20 years, awareness of the havoc that single-use plastics wreak has grown. Though individuals can help cut down on the problem, policy changes will be far more effective at reducing waste streams.
In January 2019, Berkeley, California, passed the sweeping Single-Use Food Ware and Litter Reduction Ordinance. Honolulu followed in December of that year with Bill 40, which utilizes the request-only model as a lead-in for an eventual ban of most single-use plastic food ware and polystyrene-foam food ware.
By early 2020, anticipation was high that more cities would join in building a comprehensive plastic policy, but the onset of the pandemic sidelined, at least temporarily, those efforts. Covid-19 didn’t just shift the attention of legislators —it also threatened to change public attitudes about single-use items.
In early March 2020, Starbucks issued a statement that it would put a hold on reusable cups due to the pandemic and health concerns. “That was sort of a shock wave across the United States,” says Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington, a nonprofit that works toward waste-reduction policies. “I think a lot of the other coffee shops in other places pretty quickly took the same route of just simply not allowing you to bring your own container.”
Similarly, some stores initially stopped allowing reusable bags, also due to the pandemic. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom halted the statewide plastic-bag ban for 60 days.
Meanwhile, takeout and delivery from restaurants increased dramatically during the pandemic, and those orders often arrived with disposable odds and ends that might not be needed or desired by people eating at home.
So far, Uber Eats, Grubhub, Postmates, and DoorDash have all announced food-ware-request features, the result of the #cutoutcutlery campaign targeting apps and large restaurants that was spearheaded by Los Angeles-based nonprofit Habits of Waste.
In Los Angeles, takeout and delivery meals, combined with increased online shopping, led to an uptick in trash for a system that was already burdened. In the year following the city’s first stay-at-home order, it became common to see plastic bags and broken bits of disposable cutlery mixed with discarded masks and gloves along high-traffic sidewalks. Environmental groups like Surfrider Foundation and Heal the Bay reported increases in PPE and single-use food ware during their beach cleanups.
What’s next for plastic-pollution policies? In late March, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was introduced into both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. A comprehensive bill that includes plastic-reduction policies and extended producer responsibility for the companies that make plastic, it’s supported by a large number of environmental groups. Skip the Stuff-style legislation can effect change on the local levels, revising existing recycling strategies and working with health departments to encourage bring-your-own policies.
“There has been a tremendous surge in interest in solving this problem legislatively, both as a result of the pandemic — because we are living with so much more plastic pollution — but also because of the years of awareness-building,” says Gordon. “I think there’s more interest now than ever before in dialing back single-use plastics and also the whole throwaway culture.”
Author Credit: Liz Ohanesian
Original Article From Shondaland.com