Giving Compass' Take:

• In Berkeley, CA, several restaurants are following a waste management ordinance to reduce the amount of single-use plastic currently used in their establishments. 

• How can donors support restaurants to do this as COVID-19 continues to severely impact small businesses?  

• Learn about transitioning to a circular economy to reduce plastic pollution. 

Most restaurants in Berkeley, CA are now be closed or running limited service in response to COVID-19 and resulting shelter-in-place orders. But before they went dark, many were in the midst of adapting to one of the most aggressive ordinances around single-use waste anywhere in the country.

When the city's Single Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance ​was passed in January 2019, it drew widespread attention in waste reduction circles and a considerable display of consensus ahead of the final vote.

The ordinance was nearly a decade in the making with ongoing environmental advocacy, extensive data collection and technical assistance programs. This groundwork helped supporters feel confident in saying that eliminating single-use disposables — strategically and in certain situations — was a win for businesses, their bottom lines and the environment.

According to Miriam Gordon, a project manager at the nonprofit UPSTREAM, preparation for the ordinance began in 2011 with a waste audit performed by Clean Water Action that found food and beverage packaging accounted for 67% of litter on the San Francisco Bay Area's streets.

This formed the basic argument behind a technical assistance program called ReThink Disposable, launched a year later with seed funding from the U.S. EPA. The program, which provides individualized consulting and waste auditing services to restaurants, has prevented over 17.8 million (or 200,000 pounds worth of) single-use items from entering the waste stream and saved over $500,000 for participating food businesses.

The concept has found success by targeting the restaurant industry’s tendency to default to disposable options such as serving meals "for here" in disposable "to go" foodware. Gordon says this practice has “only gotten worse over time" and has long baffled her and her colleagues.

Read the full article about environmental advocacy by Karine Vann at Smart Cities Dive.