Press Releases

Oakland’s Proposed Reusable Foodware Policy – A Win-Win for Small Businesses and the Environment

Oakland, December 19, 2023 — In a remarkable step towards addressing the twin crises of plastic pollution and climate change, the Oakland City Council passed a groundbreaking reusable foodware policy. Authored by Councilmember Dan Kalb, and co-sponsored by Councilmember Noel Gallo, the policy is designed to save local businesses money while substantially reducing plastic waste. Reusable Oakland, a coalition of 19 local environmental organizations and businesses, celebrated the policy for its far-reaching benefits and commended Councilmember Kalb for his leadership.

The disposable culture drives businesses to rely on single-use food packaging which is contributing to a staggering plastic pollution crisis. Fifteen million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year – the equivalent of two garbage trucks per minute – mostly from urban streets. In Oakland and other Bay Area cities, disposable foodware accounts for 67%  of the litter that enters the Bay from stormwater, according to Clean Water Action. Data from International Coastal Cleanup Day shows that 75% of the top ten littered items on beaches is food and beverage packaging and almost all of it is plastic.

Microplastics are present at alarming levels in ocean and inland waterways, drinking water, the human body, and even mothers’ breast milk, posing grave health and environmental threats. The San Francisco Estuary Institute emphasizes the role of food and beverage packaging in stormwater runoff, which contributes to the staggering 7 trillion microplastic particles entering the Bay each year. Their recommendation is unequivocal: take legislative action to curtail single-use plastic pollution at the source. This is precisely what the proposed Oakland Reusable Foodware Ordinance seeks to achieve.

This ordinance requires that food service establishments exclusively serve dine-in customers with reusable dishware and utensils. Businesses will have to accept customers’ personal reusable cups and containers for take-out at the counter but will have the discretion to reject them if they are unclean. At City facilities, events, and large venues, vendors will be required to serve beverages in reusable cups. The sale or distribution of packaged water at City facilities will cease, making way for water refill stations to support the use of reusable bottles. The City of Berkeley enacted the first reusable foodware policy in the world in 2019. Since then, 27 local jurisdictions in North America have enacted similar policies, according to the Story of Stuff Project. 

Transitioning to reusables offers businesses the opportunity to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars annually by avoiding single-use food serviceware and reducing waste disposal costs.

Based on data collected by ReThink Disposable, which has helped 500 Bay Area businesses switch to reusables, a recent analysis estimates that, on average, Oakland food businesses will enjoy net savings of over $4,000 each year through the adoption of reusable foodware. Moreover, businesses making the switch report improved customer experiences and increased customer loyalty.

“I am proud to sponsor this important piece of legislation that will help us clean up litter from our streets and waterways, reduce the use of throwaway plastic foodware, as well as reduce Oakland’s carbon footprint,” said Dan Kalb, Oakland City Councilmember. “With this ordinance, the City of Oakland will be well on our way to hitting zero waste goals as laid out in our bold Equitable Climate Action Plan. By passing this ordinance today, Oakland has ensured that we continue to be leaders on environmental challenges and that we serve as a model for other cities across the state that are eager to reduce litter and their carbon footprint. Additionally, we will make sure that the materials that reach our compost facilities are truly compostable.”

Dan Kalb

Oakland City Councilmember, District 1

(510) 846-6018


Quotes from advocates from the Reusable Oakland coalition which fully supported this ordinance. 

“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

Story of Stuff – Reuse Accelerator
(415) 902-5196

“Foodware reduction is critical to building our region’s zero waste infrastructure. This ordinance will clean up plastic contamination in both recycling and composting programs. Without this ordinance, we run the risk that our regional composter will prohibit all foodware in our green bins due to plastic contamination. This ordinance will lower the cost of recycling by eliminating non-recyclable plastic that currently has to be sorted out and landfilled. This law will help Oakland comply with State stormwater, plastic reduction, and composting laws. Berkeleys’s foodware reduction ordinance has reduced contamination in our recycling program, saving money and improving the quality of the recycled feedstocks we produce.”

Martin Bourque, MA

Executive Director, Ecology Center

510 812-5514


“Oakland’s reuse ordinance builds the foundation and paves way for innovation. At Cyclei, we build infrastructure that allows foodwares and consumer packaged goods to easily be refilled and reused. Reusable ordinances like this are the first step to showcase the city’s support for zero waste infrastructure and allow more reuse businesses like us to innovate in Oakland and support the multi million waste problem that the city faces.”

Cher Lei

Cofounder and CEO @ Cyclei


The Center for Environmental Health applauds Oakland City Council for passing the new Reusable Foodware Ordinance for Oakland residents, businesses, and particularly, for the city’s youth who have advocated for a healthier future. Oakland’s new reuse ordinance will greatly reduce the number of toxic single-use foodware items (including plastic and fiber products) served in restaurants in Oakland. Many of these single-use foodware items contain high levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as PFAS and BPA, and have no place anywhere near the food that Oakland residents consume. These chemicals can persist in the environment for over 500 years, and we applaud the youth of Oakland who shared testimony with Oakland City Council and advocated for their own future – one with less plastic and less waste for both their environment and their personal health.” 

Ben Schleifer

Food Coordinator

Center for Environmental Health



“Oakland has demonstrated leadership today by adopting solutions for mitigating climate change and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The Foodware Ordinance embodies a circular economy of reuse, promoting a more sustainable and equitable planet.  The plastic production life cycle significantly contributes to climate pollution which drives extreme weather events. A substantial 75% of petrochemical production is dedicated to manufacturing more plastic. We express gratitude to the City of Oakland for the timely passage of this ordinance.”

Cate Calson

Climate Reality Bay AreaAlameda County Policy Squad, Co-chair