ReThink Disposable: Preventing Marine Debris at the Source
An image of a meal in disposable packaging and then the same meal in reusable containers.
The ReThink Disposable project helped businesses transition from single-use to reusable items. (Photo Credit: Clean Water Fund)

Clean Water Fund and the NOAA Marine Debris Program teamed up to educate the take-out food industry and its customers about the marine debris prevention benefits and cost savings associated with reducing food and beverage packaging.

Type of Project: Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Grant

Region: California

Project Dates: August 2015 - July 2017

Who is involved?
Clean Water Fund (CWF), with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Grant, worked with take-out food businesses in the San Francisco Bay area to find alternatives to single-use disposables and identify opportunities to reduce food and beverage packaging, as well as conducted outreach to take-out customers and the general public.

What is the project and why is it important?
Approximately 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources, with food and beverage packaging making up the largest component of that debris. These food and beverage containers can enter the marine environment in a number of ways: through ineffective or improper waste management, intentional or accidental littering, and through stormwater runoff. Once in the marine environment, litter is not just an eyesore, but can damage habitats, harm wildlife through entanglement and ingestion, and have negative economic impacts on coastal communities.

CWF’s ReThink Disposable project implemented a multifaceted campaign to educate and engage local food businesses, institutional food services, restaurant customers, and the general public about the problem of marine debris and how the reduction of disposables can help. CWF worked with over 12 local San Francisco Bay Area businesses to conduct audits and come up with non-disposable alternatives and strategies to reduce the use of single-use food and beverage packaging. Each business was provided with display materials to help educate customers, including window decals, posters, table tents, and signage for disposable items. In addition, CWF conducted outreach about the project and the benefits of reducing disposables to local restaurant associations, business associations, and business improvement districts. To expand outreach to the general public, CWF distributed educational materials about the project directly to approximately 30,000 households through a field canvas.

To measure the impacts of the project, CWF developed a monitoring strategy to demonstrate decreases in litter as a result of reductions in the amount of disposable items distributed by participating food businesses.

For more on this project, check out the Marine Debris Clearinghouse or view a webinar on the ReThink Disposable project, hosted by the West Coast Marine Debris Alliance.