Oakland’s New Reusable Foodware Policy: Good for People, the Planet, and Small Businesses

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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In mid-October, the European Union (EU) implemented a ban on glitter made of plastic particles smaller than 5mm—considered microplastics—that are resistant to degradation. This translates to a total ban on loose plastic glitter often used in crafts and in decorating, as they are ready-made microplastics that easily pollute the environment and human bodies. 

The new ban apparently caused a small glitter panic-buying spree among lifestyle influencers in Germany, among other parts of the EU. But the EU Commission stresses that loose glitters made of “biodegradable, soluble, natural, and inorganic” materials, such as minerals and plants, continue to be sold.

The ban will prohibit the use of plastic glitter in rinse-off cosmetics by 2027, in leave-on cosmetics by 2029, and in make-up and nail cosmetics by 2035. As it is a ready-made type of microplastic, banning glitter is a necessary early step in reducing the amount of microplastic pollution directly introduced to the environment and our bodies. However, microplastics are released by all plastic products, so a reduction in production and use of all plastics—including other ready-made microplastics, like microbeads—is ultimately necessary to address the problem.

Plastic-Free Glitter Alternatives

We know that once microplastics enter the environment and our bodies, they are notoriously difficult—if not impossible, in some cases—to remove. These microplastics readily pollute the environment, wildlife, and our bodies. With the recent EU ban, people are now looking for plastic-free alternatives. Here are some glitter options that are better for the Earth and our bodies:

1. Mica- and other mineral-based glitter: Glitter made of mica or other naturally glittery minerals like malachite are mined from the Earth in rock and has been traditionally prized in cosmetics.

2. Cornstarch-based glitter: This type of glitter can be made at home yourself relatively simply and inexpensively using just water, cornstarch, and natural food colorings. Not only is it DIY-friendly, it’s edible too.

3. Cellulose-based glitter: Cellulose-based glitter looks and feels a lot like plastic glitter, but is made using highly processed cellulose from eucalyptus trees.

4. Dyed salt or sugar: Table salt or sugar can be dyed using natural food colorings and dried in the oven to make glitter.

5. Colored rice or colored sand: Uncooked rice and light colored sand can be dyed using natural food colorings to create glitter and plastic-free confetti.

There are a few important things to consider when buying plastic-free glitter: With mica, salt, and other minerals, mining operations have been linked to environmental pollution and human rights issues; corn, eucalyptus, rice, and sugarcane crops are all linked to myriad human health, ecological, and social justice issues. Whenever possible, try to source your glitter or glitter ingredients in bulk and in plastic-free packaging or no packaging at all. Look for labels that indicate that what you’re buying is made, at minimum, of certified organic, biodegradable, and fair-trade ingredients. 

With increasing demand for plastic-free glitter, there are now many brands marketing “eco-glitter.” In some cases, these glitters are truly made of natural substances like minerals or sand, but in many cases they may also contain some microplastics, or are made from highly processed natural ingredients. 

And so while plastic-free glitter exists, it is also important to consider when and why we use glitter, and how much and where we use it. Less is more! 

Will you commit to being a part of plastic-free solutions? Say ‘no’ to single-use plastic.

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Today U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), 130 co-sponsors, and more than 200 supporting organizations have reintroduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act in the 118th Congress. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which was first introduced in 2020 and reintroduced in 2021, is largely regarded as the most comprehensive approach to addressing plastic pollution in the nation’s history.

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2023 expands and improves upon earlier versions of the bill by tapping into proven solutions that will better protect impacted communities, reform our broken recycling system, and shift the financial burden of waste management off of municipalities and taxpayers to where it belongs: the producers of plastic pollution. It would be a big step forward for the United States, the world’s biggest producer of plastic, to take serious steps to address its prolific production of plastic—and commit to eliminating the crisis.

What The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act Could Accomplish

If passed as law, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2023 will:

• Require producers of packaging, containers, and food-service products to design, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs

• Launch a nationwide beverage container refund program to bolster recycling rates,

• Ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable

• Ban single-use plastic carryout bags and place a fee on the distribution of the remaining carryout bags, which has proven successful at the state level

• Establish minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging, and food-service products

• Channel massive investments in U.S. domestic recycling and composting infrastructure,

• Prohibit plastic waste from being shipped to developing countries

• Protect state and local governments that enact more stringent standards

• Require EPA to partner with the National Academies of Science to conduct a comprehensive study on the environment and cumulative public health impacts of incinerators and plastic chemical recycling facilities

• Establish a temporary pause on permitting new and expanded plastic production facilities while the EPA creates and, as necessary, updates regulations on plastic production facilities to protect frontline and fenceline communities from direct and cumulative impacts on public health

• Expand the definition of toxic chemicals and prohibits such toxic chemicals from being included in covered products

• Incentivize greater reuse by requiring the tracking of reusable packaging rates and the creation of pilot programs to implement reuse and refill technology

• And more.

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act incorporates the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act as introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Merkley, and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), in December 2022. The Protecting Communities from Plastics Act:

• Issues a permitting moratorium for plastic facilities that restricts the issuing of new permits for these facilities under the Clean Air Act or the Federal Water Pollution Control Act

• Sets new Clean Air Act requirements for plastic facilities

• Sets national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants at plastic facilities

• Sets new clean water requirements at plastic facilities

• Establishes environmental justice requirements for plastic facilities, including assessing cumulative economic, environmental, and public health impacts for proposed facilities,

• Establishes new microplastics research and directives, including:

‣ Directing the Food and Drug Administration study on the presence and sources of microplastics in food (including drink) products, including food products containing fish, meat, fruits, or vegetables

‣ Directing the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on the presence of microplastics in the human body, which may include determining how the presence of microplastics in organs and biospecimens, including urine, breastmilk, and stool, impacts human health.

Lastly, The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2023 also includes the Plastic Pellet-Free Waters Act as introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), which:

• Requires the EPA to prohibit the discharge of plastic pellets and other pre-production plastic into waterways from facilities and sources that make, use, package, or transport pellets.

The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is endorsed by nearly 100 groups. See what they are saying about the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act here. Learn more about policy solutions for a plastic pollution free U.S. in the recording of our September 2023 Webinar and Q&A.

Take Action

With such potentially groundbreaking plastic pollution legislation now on the table in the United States, it’s time to take action—and we need your help. Help pass The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2023, and call on the U.S. Government to get serious about engaging in real solutions to plastic pollution. Write or call your legislators to support this important policy to end plastic pollution; find your representative here.

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Last month, we were delighted to host many engaged participants who asked excellent questions during our September webinar, Policy Matters: Solutions for a Plastic Pollution Free U.S. During the webinar, we discussed what the Biden-Harris Administration is doing to address plastic pollution in the U.S., and what they could be doing better. 

We are grateful to our September panelists Jonathan Black, Joan Mooney, and Jane Patton, and moderator Christy Leavitt, who answered many of our participants’ questions during the webinar. However, we received so many questions that we ran out of time to get to them all. To shed more light, we are now taking the opportunity to address the top five unanswered questions that we received. Please note these are answers we at Plastic Pollution Coalition pulled together based on publicly available information, as our panelists were not able to provide written responses.

1. How is the United States Government (USG) addressing the need to address and disengage from greenwashed false solutions like mechanical plastics recycling and “advanced recycling” of plastics?

Many activities, organizations, and products associated with the plastics and petrochemical industries bear a green sheen without any substance behind it, or oversell their positive environmental impacts—this is “greenwashing.” Unfortunately, the USG has historically relied upon and supported industries’ greenwashed solutions, namely, mechanical recycling of plastics which has proven to be ineffective at stopping plastic pollution. Plastics were never designed to be recycled; in fact, they are created to be disposed of so that they can be purchased again and again—driving up plastic production, and as a result, profits. 

With the failure of mechanical recycling of plastic now more widely recognized than ever before, in an effort to continue profiting from plastics, the fossil fuel and plastics industries are promoting “advanced recycling” or “chemical recycling” to the USG. “Advanced recycling,” which involves chemically or physically burning plastic into more basic petrochemicals, is even worse for human health and the environment than making new plastic. “Advanced recycling” is associated with various types of serious pollution, environmental injustices, is energy intensive, and creates toxic wastes. Being a downstream treatment for plastics, it is certainly not a solution for preventing plastic pollution. 

Disengaging the USG from these and other greenwashed false solutions remains a major challenge. However, it is a critical time to push policymakers to address plastic pollution at the source. This means calling for an end to production of single-use plastics, which are easily replaced by less wasteful reusable and refillable materials, along with cutting the country’s reliance on fossil fuels in favor of healthier and more regenerative sources of energy.

2. Do the USG, institutions, corporations, and other entities recognize the need to sever their connections with the fossil fuel and plastics industries in order to end plastic pollution and the climate crisis?

Plastics are made of fossil fuels. And it’s clear we must stop using fossil fuels in order to end plastic pollution and the climate crisis. Historically, the USG has supported these industries by subsidizing and otherwise supporting and investing in their ongoing existence. This has caused serious harm to communities and the environment. The USG could support the systems we need by incentivizing strategies and systems that reduce wastefulness through reusing, refilling, repairing, sharing, regeneration, and refusing single-use.

As part of the United Nations (UN) Plastic Treaty negotiations, a High Ambition Coalition of countries chaired by Rwanda and Norway, have called for reduced plastic production along with reduced or eliminated subsidies for fossil fuels. Across the world, institutions—including governments and pension funds—are divesting from fossil fuel income to renewable, regenerative sources of energy and materials. These actions should be greatly expanded, especially in the U.S., where, by some estimates, American taxpayers collectively pay about $20 billion dollars per year to the fossil fuel industry.

3. How are U.S. State and Federal policymakers and agencies working to address their own plastic pollution?

As the representative models of our nation, U.S. State and Federal policymakers and agencies should demonstrate the solutions we need to embrace to end plastic pollution. People model the behaviors they see, as we know from our work with people working in entertainment to Flip the Script on Plastics. Seeing our representatives continue to drink from single-use plastic bottles or using plastic straws or utensils is not encouraging when we know both the harm caused by plastic and that there are better alternatives.

What is encouraging are the recent moves by U.S. State and Federal policymakers to model real solutions. In September 2023, Massachusetts became the first state to ban the purchase of single-use plastic bottles under 21 fluid ounces by state agencies. Last year, the Department of Interior committed to reducing and eventually phasing out the sale of single-use plastic products of all kinds in national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands, a commitment doubled down upon this year with the introduction of the Reducing Waste in National Parks Act.

4. How can corporations and industries be held accountable for their plastic pollution and its widespread harmful impacts on human health, the environment, social injustice, the climate, and wildlife?

Plastic production is the cause of plastic pollution. And the industries that extract fossil fuels and produce and sell plastic—as well as the corporations, investments, and other avenues of support these industries receive—should ultimately be held accountable for their actions. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) has been implemented in some U.S. states, such as Maine and Oregon, making plastic producers legally and financially responsible for taking action to limit the environmental and social impacts of their products. EPR policies are more widespread in other parts of the world, including in Canada and the European Union.

To date, much industry and corporate accountability for plastic pollution has had to be elicited in courtrooms. There has been some progress, with California’s government investigating the role of the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries in a “decades-long campaign of deception” about the harmful impacts of plastic pollution and in driving the plastic crisis. In Montana, a court has ruled in favor of youth plaintiffs who argued that the state of Montana has violated its constitution by aggressively pursuing fossil fuel development without regard to impacts to the climate. 

5. What is the USG doing to end the environmental injustices and social costs of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts, and support just, equitable solutions for those communities worst impacted? 

In the U.S., and around the world, poor, rural, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) have been, and continue to be, unfairly targeted to carry the burden of plastic pollution and other industrial hazards. People living in communities on the frontlines of plastic and other pollution have long called for action and accountability from corporations and governments driving pollution and injustice.

Some progress has finally been made as the USG has recently committed to addressing environmental injustices, establishing an advisory council, and offering grants to underserved communities, among other efforts. However, some of these opportunities for frontline communities have proven highly cumbersome to navigate, minimizing their benefits. Additionally, new USG efforts are falling short of changing in ways that work to significantly oust systemic racism from policies and practices that have long worked to exacerbate injustices. As a result, frontline communities have had to fight for their lives, bringing attention to disproportionate risks faced. Many have succeeded in calling out and starting to rectify injustice—but there is much work to do.

Despite a few significant steps forward, still, disappointingly, the policy landscape in the U.S. has historically favored industry interests over human health and environmental justice. For example, in June 2023, less than six months after the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency filed a major federal complaint launching an investigation into a plastic factory’s violations of the Clean Air Act and environmental injustices in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, the investigation was abruptly closed. To date, the complaint and investigation have not been resolved—leaving the people on the frontlines who are worst impacted to continue shouldering a disproportionate pollution burden. 

Take Action

Last month, the UN released a Zero Draft, the earliest iteration of its Plastic Treaty, which it has set out to finalize by 2025. During our October 26 webinar, we will discuss the latest developments in the UN Plastics Treaty negotiations. Learn what Plastic Pollution Coalition members and allies are doing to shape the treaty and what you can do to take action to help. 

We need legislative and regulatory solutions that address the plastic pollution crisis at the source, reduce plastic production and use, center environmental justice, extend producer responsibility by holding corporations accountable, and create policies that support a regenerative circular society free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts. Such policies are especially needed in the U.S., which is the world’s biggest plastic polluter as a country. With the UN Plastics Treaty now being negotiated, it’s critical that the USG takes a stronger stance on plastic pollution and engage in real solutions.

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Ahead of UN Plastics Treaty negotiations set to take place in Nairobi, Kenya, next month, Plastic Pollution Coalition is proud to launch the Global Plastic Laws Database in partnership with Break Free From Plastic Europe, Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, and Surfrider U.S. Following agreement and adoption of the UN Plastics Treaty, the Database will be useful to support its implementation and then necessary to track and monitor its implementation.

The Global Plastic Laws Database is an extensive database and resource library to research, track, and visualize plastic legislation that has been passed around the world. The Database tracks legislation across the full life cycle of plastics and organizes these policies according to life cycle categories and key topics. Adopting policies to reduce plastic pollution on a global scale is widely recognized as a vital step to address this crisis and its associated detrimental impacts on our communities, health, and environment. 

Plastic Pollution Coalition serves as the Project Manager for the Global Plastic Laws Database, working in collaboration with partner organizations who contribute data from around the world. The unique dataset is input by individuals with native language knowledge and local, on-the-ground networks from across a diverse range of geographies. This process ensures the legislative data and resources are accurate, timely, and relevant to a wide range of political and legislative systems. Collectively, the data partners represent combined data from approximately 115 (out of a total of approximately 195) countries in the world.

Recognizing the impacts of plastics throughout its full life cycle, this database is organized into nine topics: Design and Reuse, Extended Producer Responsibility, Maritime Sources, Microplastics, Production and Manufacturing, Reduction, Transparency and Traceability, Waste Management, and Waste Trade. More details on each of these categories appears below.

The Global Plastic Laws Database is updated regularly, providing a way to monitor and identify emerging trends, solutions, and policy innovations at local, national, and international levels.

Key Audiences

This is a valuable resource center for policymakers, organizations, and advocates who are focused on designing effective policies to address the full life cycle of plastics. Businesses and banks can also use the database to find and understand current plastic regulations across their areas of focus; as well as educators, students, and researchers studying plastic policy; humanitarian organizations planning disaster response; and journalists covering plastic pollution and policy.

Supporting a Strong Global Plastics Treaty

The Global Plastic Laws Database helps organize and assess a broad range of policies that have been implemented and may be adapted for national and international policies, such as the United Nations Plastics Treaty. Recognizing the urgency of plastic pollution, the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) is working to develop an international treaty to unite governments to tackle plastic pollution. If successful, the treaty represents an incredible opportunity to make a difference at the scale needed to begin to effectively end plastic pollution and comprehensively address its numerous and widespread impacts.

The Global Plastic Laws Database is an invaluable resource for use during the UN Plastics Treaty negotiation process by making plastic legislation across all jurisdictions visible and accessible to be adapted and input into the Treaty. Following agreement and adoption of the UN Plastics Treaty, the Database will be necessary to track and monitor its implementation.

Project Partners

Plastic Pollution Coalition serves as the project manager and provides strategic leadership and development for the Global Plastic Laws Database and works closely with three Core Data Partners to track and update legislative data from around the world. 

Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) Europe monitors legislation relevant to plastic along its lifecycle and works with policymakers in countries across Europe and at the European Union (EU) level to design and deliver policy solutions for a future that is free from plastic pollution. The BFFP movement in Europe brings together more than 110 core members, including the Rethink Plastic alliance, which gathers 10 leading NGO working together to secure ambitious EU plastic policies.

Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) tracks and updates a significant proportion of the global legislative activity. ELAW helps communities speak out for clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet. We are a global alliance of attorneys, scientists, and other advocates collaborating across borders in more than 80 countries to build a sustainable, just future.

Surfrider Foundation U.S. tracks and updates all single-use plastic legislative activity in the United States with a grassroots network of over 170 volunteer-led chapters and student clubs. This extensive network helps to ensure the Database will have the most comprehensive U.S. data on single-use plastic legislation across all 50 states.

Life Cycle Categories & Key Topics

Design + Reuse
Laws addressing design or redesign of plastic alternatives for circularity and sustainability, including creating better systems, materials, and products. This could include providing incentives for reusables and refillables, deposit return schemes, etc.

Extended Producer Responsibility
Laws addressing the total environmental cost of a product throughout its lifecycle and intended to shift the responsibility of waste management from local governments to the producer. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws will differ based on the specific region and different implementation of EPR.

Maritime Sources
Laws addressing maritime port reception facility regulations, fishing gear requirements, and more.

Microplastics
Laws addressing the redesigning of products to reduce microplastics emissions. This could include microplastics intentionally added (i.e. in cosmetics and other products), pellet loss, artificial turf, microfibers, etc.

Production + Manufacturing
Laws aimed at the raw materials of plastics, including measures to reduce the production of virgin plastics. This could include taxes on virgin resins, caps on production facilities, etc.

Reduction
Laws aimed at reducing single-use plastic items. This could include legislation that targets a particular type of plastic (e.g., macroplastics) and measures that include public information campaigns aimed at reducing consumption.

Transparency + Traceability
Laws addressing the visibility and accessibility of data regarding plastics as they move throughout the value chain, such as requirements for producers to disclose the amount of plastic used, reporting obligations, etc.

Waste Management
Laws addressing the full spectrum of waste management, including end-of-life, disposal, chemical or advanced “recycling,” incineration, etc.

Waste Trade
Laws addressing the transfer of waste from one region to another.

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