Member Spotlight: FillGood, Plastic Free Future, Plastic Free Restaurants, USEFULL

Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) Members come from a wide range of sectors and are aligned in their mission to build a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on communities and ecosystems around the world. The Coalition Spotlight is our monthly blog to uplift and showcase their work, giving our readers an inside look at some of these influential change-makers. For Plastic Free July, we are featuring PPC Business and Organization Members focused on building plastic-free, nontoxic reuse and refill systems to help end plastic pollution.

FillGood

FillGood storefront in Berkeley, California. Photo by FillGood

PPC Business Member FillGood in Berkeley, California, is a wonderful example of a local business providing its community with zero-waste home, bath and body products, all easily procured through their storefront or via home delivery. With more than 400 sustainable options, including 130 bulk products that can be refilled, owner Stephanie Regni aims to offer a plastic-free replacement for every product that people use daily. Some of FillGood’s bulk suppliers include other PPC Business Members, such as Meliora and Plaine Products

Refill shops are an essential part of the systems we need to end plastic pollution globally. The personal care and beauty industry alone produces more than 120 billion units of plastic packaging every year. Although “chasing arrows” labels often mislead consumers to think plastic packaging can be recycled, most plastic is not recycled, and instead is incinerated, or is piled up in landfills and natural spaces. Supporting local refill shops helps build plastic-free communities. Find a refill shop near you that offers plastic-free products and refill services for common items in your daily life.

Plastic Free Future

Alejandra Warren of Plastic Free Future and Koy Hardy of Fresh Approach. Photo courtesy Plastic Free Future

Plastic Free Future is a non-profit organization launched by Alejandra Warren in 2020 with a mission to reduce and eliminate plastic pollution through outreach to systemically excluded communities and by promoting reusable alternatives. Plastic Free Future produces, synthesizes, and communicates science-based information with a particular focus on underserved communities, youth, and policymakers. In addition to the consulting services and programs they offer, their website also includes a map of reuse businesses around the world that offer either reusable takeout incentives, bulk refills, or reusables for on-site dining. 

Alejandra is a leading voice in the global movement to eliminate single-use plastics and accelerate a truly circular economy. In 2018, she co-led efforts to pass the first single-use plastic ban in San Mateo County, California, and since then has been working on bilingual outreach and technical assistance to restaurants and other industries to switch to reusable alternatives in compliance with foodware ordinances. She has also been heavily involved in the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations, urging delegations to address the multi-generational harms that plastics inflict on low-income and communities of color from the moment plastics’ fossil fuel ingredients are extracted through refining, manufacturing, shipping, storage, use, disposal, and pollution. Her recent involvement at the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) focused on advancing holistic solutions including seriously curbing plastic production and investing in community-based reuse and zero-waste systems

As a recognized activist who centers historically marginalized voices in her local and global efforts to stop plastic pollution, Alejandra was named the 2022 Activist of the Year at The Reusies. You can hear more about her work on a recent Upstream Podcast episode, and support her efforts by signing this petition to urge the US government to take a stronger stance on the Global Plastics Treaty.

Plastic Free Restaurants

Nacho Day at Forest Park Elementary (Fremont Unified Schools CA). Photo by Plastic Free Restaurants

Building the reuse systems we need to end plastic pollution requires a shift away from toxic cultures of disposability and wastefulness that define our current global economy and lifestyles. It might feel difficult to escape these cultures: Consider, for instance, the fact that Americans produce, on average, almost 5 pounds of “trash” per day. Such wastefulness is encouraged by industries that make single-use products and packaging, and is reinforced by policies that prop up these harmful businesses rather than incentivize businesses that tap into circular, nontoxic, plastic-free solutions. Plastic Free Restaurants (PFR) helps eateries, schools, institutions, and event spaces transition to reuse by subsidizing the purchase of reusable replacements, thereby eliminating petroleum-based, single-use plastic. 

To date, Plastic Free Restaurants estimates it has eliminated more than 9 million (and counting!) single-use plastic items from 67 restaurants and 29 schools in 7 states across the U.S. by subsidizing the purchase of 31,409 reusable items. Because they are a remote 501(c)3 that is volunteer driven, 94% of their entire budget is able to be given in subsidies to schools and restaurants to switch to reusable foodservice ware. For schools, their subsidies apply to the full cost of a reusable item, and for restaurants, the subsidy amounts to the price difference between the reusable replacement and the current cost of the single-use plastic item. If cost is a barrier to transitioning your school or restaurant to reusables, PFR can help eliminate this hurdle. 

Case studies from PFR’s partners at Rethink Disposable have proven that after reusables have been purchased, eateries, schools, institutions, and venues save money in almost every instance, even after accounting for increased labor, utility, and infrastructure costs. If you are still skeptical about costs, PFR will help do a personalized evaluation of your needs, and an estimate of how many months it will take you to hit the break-even point. Visit PFR’s resources page to learn more, including ways to volunteer, and apply here for a subsidy. 

USEFULL

USEFULL’s stainless steel to-go cups and containers. Photo by USEFULL

USEFULL is a tech-enabled circular economy solution designed to eliminate single-use plastic food and beverage packaging. They work with businesses, organizations, universities, and communities to conduct inventory assessments, provide technical support and training, and implement plastic-free reusable systems—helping to achieve zero-waste and sustainability goals while making it easy for people to transition away from single use. 

Building a reuse economy requires not only a shift in public behavior, but also scalable systemic solutions. When engaging with participating reuse businesses, you can check out and return the to-go food/drink packaging you’ve acquired anywhere within the network and receive notifications that remind you when your item is due for return by engaging with the USEFULL app. The app also enables participating businesses and entities to do inventory management, late fee administration, and conduct impact reporting. As a result of these features for both users and administrators, their convenient tech-centered approach has led to an astonishing 99% return rate. 

At USEFULL, their philosophy is that you can’t solve plastic pollution with more plastic. Their insulated stainless steel to-go cups and containers are dishwasher safe, plastic-free, customizable, and can be circulated for a minimum of three years before needing to be replaced. Because these items are designed for durability, they are lower impact and more cost-effective than reusables made of plastic—which ultimately do not help address the core cause of plastic pollution, which is more plastic production.

USEFULL is female founded and owned, and in 2023 alone has secured four new partners: St. Olaf College, Good Earth Natural Foods, Island Eats, and the City of Middletown, CT. It has saved each partner an average of 20—50% in costs by ditching compostable or single-use plastic alternatives for plastic-free reusable containers. USEFULL recently partnered with PlasticFreeMarin to launch their services in Good Earth’s FairFax and Mill Valley Cafes in Northern California. Visit USEFULL’s website to learn more about how their system works

Does your business or organization align with our mission to build a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts? Apply to join our global movement.

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