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What's Wrong with Reusables?

At FPI, we get a lot of requests from media, consultants, educators, etc. for our thoughts on a number of topics. The latest request was a topic I relish talking about… my thoughts on reusable takeout food containers.

I told the consultant about how single-use foodservice packaging was invented over 100 years ago to provide a more sanitary alternative to their reusable counterparts and help protect public health. I shared with her that over the years, FPI had commissioned independent studies with third-party laboratories to confirm the sanitary advantage of single-use foodservice packaging over reusables (check out the results in our “Sanitation” related Resources). This is especially important as flu season is upon us. 

I commented that sometimes foodservice operators will consider switching to reusables in an attempt to save money or be more “environmentally conscious.” In reality, an operator may not have the expense of purchasing foodservice packaging, but they should compare that to the costs of expensive equipment (dishwashers and other support equipment like racks, carts, dollies, shelving, bins, etc.), additional labor and need for non-revenue producing storage space. And don’t forget the bills for water, detergents and energy used by dishwashers. Or the costs to replace reusables that are broken, damaged, stolen or accidentally discarded. [On that note, I’ve found it amusing to read about different attempts to keep silverware from being discarded – magnets in the openings of trash cans? Really?]

It’s a topic discussed in city councils, too. A Canadian city (which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) considered a bill that would encourage citizens to bring in their own reusable containers into delis to be filled. Based on studies, I can only image what might be growing in them – and how long it would take for a public health scare to happen. The council recognized the unintended consequences and did not approve the bill. On the flip side, we saw at least one city in drought-stricken California last year mandate the use of single-use items in foodservice operations to avoid water usage. Good idea!

Perhaps the most interesting question she asked during our conversation was would FPI ever support the use of reusables. I told her I thought that would be a tough one, given that we’ve spent the last 80-plus years advocating for the interests of the single-use foodservice packaging industry and promoting its part in protecting public health. While the debate over single-use versus reusables will continue, the benefits of single-use are undeniable. Are we biased? Of course. But for good reason.

Posted By Lynn M. Dyer (President) | 2/16/2016 4:03:34 PM