What’s the Greenest Way to Keep Things Cool?

Hi! My name is Kareena Desai. I am the founder of Perform For Change, a non-profit organization that raises money for important environmental causes through projects and performances, and a Plastic Pollution Coalition Youth Ambassador.

Recently, my family and I visited The Plot in Oceanside, California. The Plot is a plant-based restaurant founded by Executive Chef Davin Waite and CEO Jessica Waite in January 2020, and is a Plastic Pollution Coalition Business Member.

At the restaurant, our waitress Kat explained how the whole restaurant is zero waste. Here are some of the amazing things The Plot does to eliminate plastic pollution and wastefulness:

  • Use reusable utensils and crockery.
  • Offer menus made from compostable materials.
  • Create a tradition around conserving all parts of food used in cooking. Before we ordered, we were presented with an “amuse bouche” of squash with kale stem relish. Pronounced “ah-myooz boosh,” it directly translates to “it amuses the mouth” in French. At The Plot, they call these dishes, “A gift from the kitchen that we share with each guest at the beginning of their meal.”
  • Growing a garden that provides almost 30% of the produce on the menu. After the meal, we were lucky enough to meet Chef Travis, who gave us an amazing tour around their organic, raised bed garden, which is located next to the restaurant. In the garden, we saw growing all different types of vegetables, fruits, and herbs that will be used in The Plot’s kitchen. 
  • Composting food scraps. Chef Travis also told us how they compost all of their food scraps. The scraps from the kitchen get composted in their garden, and the ones from the tables get composted industrially.
  • Using reusable and biodegradable containers for takeout. The Plot makes sure that their takeout utensils and boxes are completely biodegradable. They have also partnered with Plastic Pollution Coalition Business Member ReVessel to create a reusable takeout container swap program. 
  • Refusing ingredients in single-use plastic. The Plot works with trusted vendors to make sure the produce that can’t be grown in their own garden doesn’t come in plastic packaging. They said if they received any produce wrapped in plastic, they would send it back.

At The Plot my family enjoyed an amazing Caesar salad, “cheesy” truffle fries, tomato bisque, and their delicious mushroom-based “chronic” sushi! For dessert we had a delicious olive oil and vanilla cream “plot cake” and chocolate mousse with walnut crumble.

The Plot continues to serve delicious and waste-free food to their customers every day. They are now planning to open up a new location in Costa Mesa, California. If you want to learn more about their amazing work, please visit their website at theplotrestaurant.com.

Kat, me (Kareena), and Chef Travis

More Resources to Keep Your Eatery Plastic-Free

The Plot is one of a growing number of food businesses now making the change we need to end plastic pollution and wastefulness. And for good reason: In addition to being better for people and the planet, these businesses are helping to advance real, systemic solutions to plastic pollution by tapping into the plastic-free principles: reuse, refill, repair, share, and regenerate. 

Do you work in the food business? Restaurant and other eatery owners and operators can learn more about how to reduce plastic in food prep, service, and delivery with Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Plastic-Free Eatery Guide. In addition, we invite your plastic-free eatery to join our Coalition

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January 31 , 1:00 pm 2:00 pm EST

Efforts to address PFAS contamination have been primarily directed at exposure from drinking water. However, a recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found high PFAS levels in locally caught freshwater fish across the United States.

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as “forever chemicals,” can be found in soil and water, in fish, and in our bodies. This study found that consuming just one serving of fish can be equivalent to drinking water contaminated with high levels of PFAS (48 parts per trillion) for a month.

PFAS are associated with human health harms, including cancer, heart disease, birth defects, liver disease, and decreased immunity. Rural and Indigenous communities, relying on freshwater fish as part of their traditional diet and culture, can be at higher risk from these health threats.

Many states have PFAS-related fish consumption advisories, but Alaska lacks regulations and health guidelines for PFAS contamination. Several lakes in Alaska have fish consumption warnings due to PFAS contamination from firefighting foam. PFAS exposure is a significant issue in Alaska also due to atmospheric transport and ocean currents carrying pollutants from all over the planet to the Arctic.

In this webinar, CHE-Alaska will host EWG’s Dr. Tasha Stoiber and ACAT’s Pamela Miller to discuss PFAS contamination in freshwater fish, and how it represents an environmental justice issue for communities that depend on locally caught fish for sustenance and traditional cultural practices.

Dr. Stoiber will present a recent study on PFAS contamination in freshwater fish across the country. Dr. Miller will discuss PFAS contamination and related legislation specific to Alaska.

Plastic water bottles, a long-known enemy of our Earth, are finding their way into human bodies in huge quantities—well, pieces of them are. A study published this week shows just how much plastic we drink with bottled water: Researchers from Columbia University and Rutgers have found at least 240,000 plastic particles in the average liter of bottled water, a major health concern.

Most of the plastic particles found by the researchers were extremely small nanoplastics, which have a diameter of less than one micrometer—making them invisible to the naked eye. Nanoplastics have been historically challenging to study due to their extremely small size, but as technology has improved, scientists are now finding them almost everywhere—including in the environment, plants, animals, beverages, foods, and our human bodies.

We know at this point that our skin is constantly shedding. And this is what these plastic items are doing — they’re just constantly shedding.

— Dr. Sam Mason, professor and director of sustainability at Penn State Behrend, said to The Washington Post

Tiny Plastics Present Big Dangers

Looking at microplastic under microscope at beach.

Plastics do not benignly break down like natural substances. Instead, they break apart into infinitely smaller pieces that remain plastic. This process can be sped up when plastics are exposed to water, such as in the ocean or in a water bottle, or when plastic is heated, like when lawn furniture is left in the sun or a plastic container of food is microwaved. In addition to creating nanoplastics, plastic items also shed slightly larger and more visible microplastics. And unfortunately these particles are becoming virtually impossible to avoid. Another recent study shows that commonly consumed plant and animal proteins are contaminated with microplastics

Due to their small size, nanoplastics and microplastics accumulate in and travel through our environment, and this means these tiny plastic pieces are increasingly entering bodies. We are especially exposed to microplastics and nanoplastics when we drink, eat, and breathe. Over the past several years, scientists have detected the presence of tiny plastic particles all throughout people’s bodies, including in our hearts, bloodstreams, veins, lungs, placentas, feces, testes/semen, breast milk, and brains, with more worrying research now on the way. Observations of wild animals in nature show us that interactions with plastic particles can be lethal—especially nanoplastics which are so small they can travel from animals’ bloodstreams into their brains, other organs and tissues, and living cells. Children and pregnant people are especially vulnerable to the effects of plastic.

While the full range of health effects of nanoplastics and microplastics in our bodies is not yet fully understood, what experts do know is already very concerning. Like all plastics, microplastics and nanoplastics are known to contain any mix of additive chemicals. More than 16,000 such chemicals have been counted in plastics, and none have been classified as “safe.” At least 25% are already officially classified as hazardous. A few concerning plastic chemicals include hormone-disrupting and cancer-causing phthalates, PFAS, and bisphenols; asbestos and toxic heavy metals such as lead and arsenic; and much more. Additionally, microplastics can absorb and accumulate toxic chemicals in the environment, which leach into living bodies, waters, soils, and plants.

Take Action

Tiny plastic particles are also present in tap water, due to the use of plastic pipes, water storage and treatment equipment, and environmental pollution—but in far smaller quantities. Certain filters can help remove plastic particles from tap water. Drinking from plastic-free ceramic, glass, or stainless steel reusable water bottles can help drastically reduce your exposure to plastic particles. Further, when choosing foods, select the least processed options, such as loose fruits and vegetables which are usually less contaminated by plastic, and in general avoid food that is packaged in plastic—instead, look for foods in paper, banana leaves, or no packaging.

While it’s helpful and healthy to cut plastic out of your life to protect your health, we still need major systems change to stop this urgent global crisis. One major step we can take is to ban plastic water and beverage bottles, and all other plastic, from school lunchrooms to protect children’s health. Please tell the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service to eliminate the use of plastics as part of the National School Lunch Program.

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January 9 , 12:00 pm 1:00 pm EST

A large number of chemicals of concern are used in food contact materials, and can migrate from those materials into food. Existing regulatory requirements do not adequately address the health hazards of these chemicals, for several reasons. For example, chemicals intentionally used in food contact materials are generally not tested for endocrine disrupting effects. 

In this 45-minute EDC Strategies Partnership webinar, Dr. Jane Muncke will discuss a new study, “A vision for safer food contact materials: Public health concerns as drivers for improved testing.” The study proposes a concept for improved testing of food contact materials and the chemicals used to make those materials. 

The authors outline an approach to testing migration of chemicals out of food contact materials, focusing on the final products such as food containers. This testing protocol would include known and intentionally added chemicals as well as unknown and unintentionally added chemicals. 

This webinar will be moderated by Dr. Jerry Heindel of the Healthy Environment and Endocrine Disruptor Strategies (HEEDS) program of Environmental Health Sciences.

On December 19, the city council of Oakland, California, passed a comprehensive new reusable foodware policy that is good for people, the planet, and small businesses. By requiring reusable foodware and beverage systems to exist at eateries, municipal facilities, and large events throughout the city, the policy works to address the urgent interconnected crises of plastic pollution, mass consumerism, and climate change. The policy was authored by Councilmember Dan Kalb, co-sponsored by Councilmember Noel Gallo, and supported by Reusable Oakland, a coalition of 19 local environmental organizations and businesses.

With this new law, Oakland joins the City of Berkeley, which enacted the world’s first reusable foodware policy in 2019, and the 27 local jurisdictions in North America have enacted similar policies since, according to the Story of Stuff Project.

The City of Oakland has taken bold action to change a throwaway economy that extracts limited natural resources and uses polluting industrial processes to make products consumed in minutes that instantly become trash. Serving food and beverages in reusables is a triple play: it’s a climate and plastic pollution solution, it saves Bay Area businesses an average of $4,000 per year, and reduces government costs of litter cleanup and managing waste.

— Miriam Gordon, The Story of Stuff Project

Oakland Recognizes Benefits of Reuse Over Single-Use

Oakland’s new reusable policy will require food and drink establishments to provide reusable foodware—including plates, utensils, cups, and more—to people who dine in, and allow people to bring in their own clean and washed reusable foodware containers for to-go orders and leftovers. Additionally, the law will prohibit the sale of plastic water bottles and any packaged water at city facilities, gatherings, and large events. Instead, the city will prioritize making water refill stations widely available. 

Importantly, the new legislation addresses single-use bioplastics—plastics made from highly processed plants like sugarcane and corn—and recognizes that these materials are not as environmentally friendly as they seem. Bioplastics are not a solution to plastic pollution: they do not benignly break down, often contain or are coated with hazardous chemicals, drive pollution and injustice, and perpetuate wasteful throwaway systems and single-use habits. Even where compost facilities exist to accept bioplastics, which are rather few and far between, organic plant growers in California and beyond have expressed that they are not interested in taking compost with toxic bioplastics in it as it harms soils.

Switching from single-use to reusables helps people and the planet, but it is also a smart business choice. Oakland’s new policy offers businesses the chance to save hundreds to thousands of dollars annually by eliminating the need to continue buying single-use food serviceware and significantly reducing businesses’ wastes to save on disposal costs. Moreover, businesses making the switch report improved customer experiences and increased customer loyalty.

The policy would be rolled out over a year so that businesses can phase out the current single-use products they have on hand. ReThink Disposable, a technical assistance program that helps food businesses implement best practices to reduce waste and cut costs by minimizing disposable product usage, has already helped 500 Bay Area businesses switch to reusables. The city says it will work with its partners to provide education to the public on what items are or are not in compliance with the ordinance. Grant opportunities will be made available for vendors in need of assistance adding extra dishwashing capacity if needed as they adopt reusable systems.

The Oakland reusable foodware ordinance is an exciting step forward for the Bay Area and for the reuse movement more broadly. Disposable food and beverage packaging clogs our streets, waterways, recycling facilities, and landfills. It costs taxpayer money to clean up, and poses serious social and environmental problems for communities. We applaud the Oakland City Council’s recognition that building reuse infrastructure will not only decrease the negative impacts of plastic pollution on our natural systems, but will also provide economic advantages for the majority of food businesses and event spaces as part of a larger shift towards a circular economy.

— Aidan Maguire, Coalition Manager, Plastic Pollution Coalition

Take Action

Do you work at or own a food or beverage establishment in Oakland, California? Reap the benefits of going reusable: Use our Plastic-Free Eateries Guide to help inform your decision making on what reusable choices are best for you. Once you’ve made the switch to reusables, join our Coalition to stay up-to-date on solutions and learn from other businesses who have joined our Coalition to commit to ending plastic pollution together. And if you’re an individual, take the pledge to say no to single-use plastic.

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