10 Tips for Returning to Work — Without Drowning in Single-Use Plastic

By Jessica Heiges and Lindsey Hoell

Four months ago, we were launching our reusable container system in downtown San Francisco with an exciting list of companies and restaurants. Our model placed reusable container return bins (we coined them “4th bin”) on every floor of office buildings. Employees were given “Dispatch Goods Memberships,” which granted them access to reusable containers at many local restaurants when ordering take-out, and an easy return bin at the office. It was a thriving circular reuse system.

And then March arrived, as did COVID-19, and our operations came to a screeching halt. As employees were instructed to work-from-home and many restaurant partners closed their doors, we had to adapt quickly. We had always wanted to tackle food delivery, but we didn’t expect to focus on it so soon. Luckily, our team is stacked with passionate superhumans dedicated to solving the waste crisis, and within a month, we were delivering cold, restaurant-prepared meals to our customers, all in reusable containers that we pick up and wash. It’s been exciting to explore this new space, and with single-use plastics increasing 250-300% during COVID, we are adamant that we must solve this packaging problem on a large scale.

As we talk to companies that we’d been working with prior to COVID, we have been receiving a lot of similar questions. We thought we’d share our knowledge and aggregate learnings about how companies are handling returning to work safely and sustainably! 

How to return to work — without all the single-use plastic:

  1. Self-bussing: Create a self-bussing station or reusable return bins for all reusable foodware. 
  2. Dishwashing: If your office doesn’t have a dishwasher, partner with a foodware service provider like DishJoy or DishCraft to get reusable take-out boxes and cups in your office and have those items washed off-site 
  3. Boxed Lunches: If there is a cafeteria, have the food service employees plate meals individually into the reusable take-out boxes for pick-up by employees. Stainless steel lunchboxes are available from ecolunchbox, ReVessel, and U-Konserve. Stagger employee pick-up windows to limit foot traffic to the cafeteria.
  4. Cutlery: Offer a “mess-kit” for employees when entering the building. This could be a clean cup, with cutlery and a napkin, for the employee to use for the day. At the end of the day, the employee can deposit at the self-bussing station or reusable bin. If reusable cutlery is not desirable, offer single-use wooden chopsticks instead of plastic or bioplastic cutlery as the “best” alternative.
  5. Water: Provide additional clean cups/ water bottles for employees and have a contactless refill station (e.g. Elkay).
  6. Foodware: Store reusable foodware in open cabinets (no door), or on the counter.
  7. Coffee & Tea!: Order mason jars of cold brew or chai from Dispatch Goods; enjoy it and we’ll pick up the empty jars on a daily basis. If you have a coffee attendant, have them pour it directly into clean cups and deposit it at the self-bussing station.
  8. Bulk bins of treats/snacks: If there are cafeteria personnel, request that they pre-package treats/snacks in mason jars for pick-up. 
  9. Catering: Cater lunches from Dispatch Goods; receive individual restaurant meals in reusable containers, which we’ll then pick up and wash later that day. 
  10. Take Out: Look out for Ritual.co to soon offer meals and coffee in reusable containers for pick-up orders at restaurants and cafes near your office.  

This is a compilation of the best strategies we’ve uncovered when talking to businesses, so take from it only what you deem safe and applicable! We will be holding a panel to take a deep dive into “returning to work safely and sustainably” at the end of July. If you’d like to be notified of the details of this event, please visit dispatchgoods.com and sign up for the newsletter.

Co-authored by Jessica Heiges, Chief Sustainability Officer, and Lindsey Hoell, CEO of Dispatch Goods

Join our global Coalition.

by Greenpeace International

The health experts  — joined by Greenpeace USA and UPSTREAM, both members of the Break Free From Plastic movement — emphasize that disposable products are not inherently safer than reusables and that reusable systems can be utilized safely during the pandemic by employing basic hygiene.

“Public health must include maintaining the cleanliness of our home, the Earth,” said Dr. Mark Miller, former director of research at the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center. “The promotion of unnecessary single-use plastics to decrease exposure to the coronavirus negatively impacts the environment, water systems, and potential food supply compared to the safe use of reusable bags, containers, and utensils.”

The statement endorsed by scientists, academics, doctors, and specialists in public health and food packaging safety around the world, notes that household disinfectants have been proven effective at disinfecting hard surfaces, such as reusables. The statement follows several temporary pauses on plastic bans across the world and increased bans on reusables by shops amid COVID-19.

“It’s been shocking to witness the plastic industry take advantage of the pandemic to promote throwaway plastics and scare people away from reusable bags and other items,” said Greenpeace USA Global Project Leader Graham Forbes. “It is crucial for businesses, and governments to know that as they reopen, reusable systems can be deployed safely to protect both our environment and workers and customers. To keep people safe and protect our planet, we should listen to the best available science instead of underhanded marketing from the plastic industry.” 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the plastic industry has worked to boost profits and demonize reusables. Pauses on plastic bans followed a significant PR push from the plastics industry, using older industry-funded research to claim that reusables are more dangerous than disposables during COVID-19. 

“Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of conflicting information about how the virus is spread, but we now know that surfaces are not the main way we’re exposed,” said Matt Prindiville, CEO of UPSTREAM – a nonprofit sparking innovative solutions to plastic pollution. “Plastic harms our health along the entire supply chain. Fortunately, COVID is easily destroyed by proper washing, so restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses can still serve us using reusable items in ways that protect health without harming the environment.” 

The full statement signed by health experts can be found here.

Via PPC member Greenpeace

Washington, DC – As COVID-19 continues to spread, surrogates of plastics and petrochemical manufacturers have promoted fear of reusable bags in order to help industry sell more plastic. These groups, including the Manhattan Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, are financed by petrochemical refinery companies. They have misrepresented studies that show coronavirus may persist on plastic surfaces longer than other materials.

These front groups are echoing plastic company consultants and industry-funded researchers, whose studies are being re-circulated to suggest that reusable bags risk transmitting disease. This misinformation is already being used to lobby state legislatures to defeat or repeal plastic bag ban legislation and risks further confusion amidst a public health crisis.

In response, Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar said:

“Industry groups have seen this crisis as an opportunity to exploit people’s fears around COVID-19 to push their pro-pollution agendas. Even in the short term, plastic does not inherently make something clean and safe, and we should not confuse corporate public relations with factual medical research. A new study from National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA, and Princeton University scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine has indicated that the virus could be stable on plastic surfaces for as long as two to three days.

“The truth is that we don’t have all of the answers to this COVID-19 emergency yet, and for industry to use this as an opportunity to increase profits for the fossil fuel and plastics sectors is dangerous and irresponsible. What we do know is that there is no substitute for strict hygiene. Just because a material is made from single-use plastic does not make it less likely to transmit viral infections during use; in fact, plastic surfaces appear to allow coronaviruses to remain infectious for particularly long periods compared to other materials. As we all continue to practice social distancing in our own homes, our ability to shift away from disposables only becomes more clear. This should be a time for growth and progress, not fearmongering to keep the status quo alive.

“The entire lifecycle of plastic is dangerous — from its extraction to its disposal. People living in communities near refineries face elevated exposure to harmful chemicals and an increased risk of health concerns. Increased plastics and microplastics in our environment may also provide surfaces for contamination with a range of animal and human pathogens, including harmful bacteria, and allow for their wider dissemination.

“The decisions we make for our families in this health crisis should be based on science and the advice of medical professionals, not lobbyists for the fossil fuel and plastics industries. Wherever reusables are an option, it is incumbent upon all of us to do our part to protect one another by washing them thoroughly after every use. And beyond this crisis, companies must do everything possible to ensure that any and all means they use to sell their products are sanitary and protect the health of employees and customers—as well as the environment.”

Join our global Coalition.

As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to spread, we all are grappling with its impact on our local communities and the world, and we grieve with those who have lost loved ones.

Public health experts advise self-quarantine and, if necessary to go out, to keep six-feet of physical distance from others to help slow down the spread of this disease. This is in an effort to flatten the curve of infection and lessen the impact on our health care systems.

We have seen communities supporting each other in many new and old ways over the past few weeks. We have seen global carbon emissions fall and opportunities to advocate for new systems of care for the health of us all.

Plastic Pollution Coalition will continue advocating for a world free of plastic pollution for the health of animals, humans, waterways, oceans, and the environment. 

We remain unswerving in our work to reduce single-use plastics–specifically for non-medical use that may become a vehicle of virus transmission and cause worsening global plastic pollution.

It’s important to remember that using more single-use plastic disposables during this time increases your exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals that are toxic to our own health and that of younger generations.

What can you do?

We are all in this together, and we will get through this with each other’s help and care.

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