What’s the deal with single-use foodware in Truckee? Single-use items like plastic utensils, coffee cups and straws are part of our everyday lives. After being used once, these items end up in our landfills, environment, streams, lakes, and oceans forever, since plastic does not biodegrade. Community members, student groups, and our town council members have asked for policies to reduce these disposable items in Truckee.
Can’t we just recycle plastic foodware items? Recycling and composting are not reliable outlets for single-use items. Due to recent regulations in China, the ability to recycle materials has significantly been reduced. In Truckee, we can only recycle clean #1 and #2 plastics, paper, metal, and glass.
What about those “compostable” utensils and cups? Compostable products made out of corn, sugarcane or other plant-based materials are not necessarily sustainable alternatives. In reality, these types of “compostable” bio-plastics or fibers, are not accepted at most composting facilities, including our own, because they would not break down in this composting environment.
Often times we only consider the environmental impacts of disposal — whether items are recycled, composted, or landfilled. But, the impacts from producing and transporting single-use items are actually responsible for a majority of a product’s environmental impact.
We need to always remember the REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE hierarchy. If you must use an item, reusables are always the most environmentally friendly option.
Keep Truckee Green staff gathered public feedback from business workshops, surveys, and a community workshop in 2019.
After careful consideration of the complexities of the recycling options, studying best practices from other communities, and factoring in the public feedback, staff drafted the following policy recommendations, which were discussed at the town council’s meeting on February 11, 2020:
- Provide single-use straws, utensils, and accessory items upon request only.
- Provide only reusable food-ware items for in-house dining. Exceptions would need to be made for restaurants without dishwashers.
- Require restaurants to charge a fee on cups, utensils or accessory items. Studies show that the most effective fee price to drive behavior change is 25 cents.
Council directed staff to create a working group to move forward with single-use reduction policies. However, the single-use ordinance drafting has been put on hold during the COVID-19 crisis. Town of Truckee staff will resume this work once businesses are able to participate in this conversation.
Restaurant Procurement Guide
As a follow up to feedback received during business outreach, we have compiled a procurement guide to help food-related businesses procure takeout items that have a lower environmental impact. There are many factors that decide if a product is more or less environmentally friendly, including, but not limited to the material, weight, and packaging. There is no “best” disposable product, but this guide will help businesses with considerations to make when purchasing disposable products. When possible, reusables are always the better option.