One step closer to zero waste: The change, led by Circular Philadelphia, makes it easier for restaurants and food businesses to make the switch to reusable containers for takeout, reducing waste.
The Philadelphia Health Department has updated the administrative code to allow city restaurants and other food businesses to offer reusable containers to customers. The change comes after Circular Philadelphia advocated for an update to the current regulation language and eliminated a hurdle for small businesses. This change will help local food businesses’ efforts to reduce waste, increase reusable systems and move towards a circular economy.
Prior to the change, restaurants and other food businesses had to seek a variance from the Health Department and pay a $255 fee for approval to offer reusable to-go containers to customers. Many restaurants were unaware of the variance requirement or didn’t have the time to file for the variance, which placed an unnecessary burden on restaurateurs who wanted to reduce the container waste they produced.
Tiffin, a popular Indian restaurant chain in the Philadelphia region, launched a reusable take-out container program in March at their three Philadelphia locations along with other suburban locations. However, the Health Department required them to suspend the program until they acquired a variance from the Department. Once they discovered the variance requirement in May, they promptly sought and received a variance to continue the popular “Return 2 Tiffin” program.
Tiffin corresponded with Nic Esposito, Circular Philadelphia’s Director of Policy and Engagement, about the requirement. Esposito worked with Department of Public Health staff over the next month to demonstrate the value of eliminating the variance to the City and local restaurants. The Department agreed to offer a new option for food businesses to implement container reuse systems to eliminate the variance. Businesses would instead need to use appropriate food-grade containers in accordance with FDA guidelines.
“This change brings Philadelphia in line with FDA guidelines and makes it easier for more restaurants and food businesses to offer reusable containers and reduce the quantity of waste they generate,” said Esposito. “These are exactly the kinds of common sense changes that Circular Philadelphia can continue to push for in the City and pave the way for a thriving circular economy in the region.”
“We believe that restaurants and food establishments in Philadelphia are among the best in the world,” said Dr. Palak Raval-Nelson, Director of the Health Department’s Environmental Health Services division. “By working with establishments, like in this case, we can ensure that not only are our restaurants safely operating, but also that they’re helping us attain our Zero Waste goals.”
“By changing our own mindset about moving from disposable to reusable and creating a platform that makes it easy for our customers to participate, the impact will be far reaching and long lasting,” explained Tiffin owner Munish Narula on the impact of this policy change. “We applaud the removal of such unnecessary restrictions on use of the containers which only created a barrier for other restaurants and businesses to do the same. This win also encourages us to develop a broader range of sustainable practices in our own business and help others to do the same.”
Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability, which leads the City’s efforts to reduce waste and promote reuse, supports the change. They are working with Circular Philadelphia to get the word out to restaurants and other food businesses about the change and drive adoption of container reuse systems.
Office of Sustainability Waste Reduction Programs Lead Helena Rudoff explained, “Restaurants and food businesses are essential partners in achieving the City’s Zero Waste goal, and more, towards fostering habits of reuse and circularity in everyday life. After observing container reuse pilots succeed in other cities, the Office of Sustainability is eager to support these programs in Philadelphia and to better understand how they impact waste and litter.”
The new option for food businesses to offer reusable containers to customers goes into effect immediately. Existing businesses can switch to reusables and their systems and containers will be inspected at their next annual inspection. New businesses can list on their Health Department Plan Review that they are using reusable containers and this will be added to their standard inspection. On August 25th at 2:30 PM, the Office of Sustainability and Circular Philadelphia will host a webinar on how restaurants and food businesses can take advantage of the option to offer reusable containers and reduce waste. The webinar will also cover distribution and washing guidelines, as well as approved containers.
Webinar: Reusable Containers for Restaurants and Food Businesses
August 25, 2021
2:30 PM (EDT)