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The food service industry was among the hardest hit by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Recent numbers show that 61% of restaurants in the U.S. have closed permanently due to challenges presented by shelter in place orders and social distancing requirements. The establishments that have remained in business have been forced to shift their operations to provide take-out and delivery and have been in survival mode.

Between September 1, 2020 and October 29, 2020, Clean Water Fund contacted 142 restaurants in Alameda County, CA that had previously adopted reusable options through the ReThink Disposable source reduction process. Survey results from 49 respondents were used to better understand if and how their commitment to and use of reusables had been impacted by the pandemic.

Surveyed food operators named environmental benefits and waste reduction as the top two benefits for using reusable foodware, highlighting the fact that core values around sustainability remain strong. However, there is a clear need to educate both food operators and the public that reusables are just as safe as disposables — a finding supported by the FDA and medical experts.

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