Foodware: Cultivating New Habits

There are many environmental issues that people can avoid–they can drive an electric car to avoid fossil fuels on their commute, or electrify their homes to move away from natural gas. However, avoiding food and its associated complexities is more difficult. Our lives are centered around our eating habits, and we are all deeply connected to our food. This rings especially true in the context of the global pandemic when many of us turned to the comfort of takeout meals as a simple joy during dark times. In turn, the use of disposable food ware items, most of which are not recyclable or compostable, are on the rise. It’s not easy to forget about food, but it is all too easy to look past the impacts of our habits as consumers and businesses.


Disposable foodware and single-use plastics have been around for decades. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 increased the consumption of single-use plastics, including disposable food service ware. This creates a problem for our waterways, public health, and landfills which are already bursting with more waste than they can handle.

So what can you do? 

Utilizing reusable foodware is always the first line of defense against take-out-related waste. Here’s some good news: properly sanitized reusables are oftentimes safer than single-use items, which are rarely properly sanitized. In instances where using disposables is absolutely necessary, there are some guidelines to help you choose the option with the smallest environmental impact.  

As a business, the best option for take-out containers is natural fiber-based, compostable items. These are typically made of fibers such as paper, sugarcane, and bamboo. You may not be able to find fiber-based alternatives for all items. San Mateo County’s “Foodware Aware” website has a great list of alternative products. Check with your distributor for more options.

If your jurisdiction has curbside compost collection, getting certified compostable products, like those certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), is important. There is a dual benefit to BPI-certified fiber-based items, not only are they guaranteed to break down in an industrial compost facility, they are also guaranteed to be free of fluorinated chemicals, sometimes called “forever chemicals.” These include polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS).

The proper sorting of compostable foodware is crucial. When these products end up in an anaerobic setting like a landfill, their degradation contributes to methane emissions.

If you own a business that utilizes disposable to-go ware, consider making the switch even if your jurisdiction does not currently require it. Cities and counties across the state are accepting the need for this long-overdue change. If the headache of the transition is holding you back, there are amazing organizations that can help. For example, ReThink Disposable helps prevent 21 million disposable packaging items from entering waste streams annually (over 260,000 pounds!). Some businesses may even qualify for rebates to assist with the overhead cost of purchasing reusable service ware (up to $300). Click here to learn more about the requirements of the rebate program. 

Businesses: Are you interested in learning more about the potential outcomes of your business or organization making such transitions? Take a look at the case studies for the San Carlos Youth Center and Manila Eatery in Colma, California. They can help you better understand the costs, annual waste reduction, savings, and more! If you’d like assistance in the journey, consider getting certified as a Green Business and ask your coordinator how you can reduce your plastic footprint. Learn more here.

Consumers: Your habits and actions make a difference! When dining out/getting to-go, try to bring your own reusables with you.  Support local government ordinances that initiate these changes. Vote with your dollars and support local restaurants providing safe and environmentally conscious options. Every bit counts.