As Philadelphia and the rest of the nation and world begin to lift pandemic restrictions, we at Circular Philadelphia hope that one thing comes back with no restrictions is the ability to use reusable beverage and food containers at cafes, groceries, outdoor events and even for take out food.
During the uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic, it was understandable that city and state governments wanted to take every precaution possible against this unknown disease. And with many conflicting studies on the possibility of surface contact transmissions, entire states, like California, lifted bans on single use bags, and many grocery chains—and even privately owned grocers and food co-ops—would not allow shoppers to use reusable bags in-store.
Thankfully, this alarm was quieted in the summer of 2020 when 125 scientists from around the world signed on to a letter that stated that using reusable containers was completely safe as long as standard health and washing protocols were taking place. These scientists went on to say that the act of not turning to these reusable containers was already leading to another devastating global emergency of plastic pollution.
It was great to be able to use reusable bags again in the grocery store, but now that more restrictions are being lifted, what’s the fate of those other reusable containers? In Philadelphia, it is perfectly legal to refill someone’s mug with coffee—or even beer at an event—as long as precautions, such as rinsing the mug or cup with hot water before use and ensuring the spout of the drink dispenser does not touch the rim, are taken.
However, the City of Philadelphia Health Department still has a regulation that conflicts with FDA code and prevents prepared food establishments, from grocers to restaurants, from filling reusable food containers for take home use. This led to the City of Philadelphia shutting down the Restaurant Chain Tiffin’s reusable container pilot early in May.
Circular Philadelphia is working with the Philadelphia Health Department to review this regulation and align the regulation more closely to FDA guidelines. But while we do that, it’s time to get back in the groove of bringing your reusables along with you, and that includes mugs to coffee shops, cups to outdoor events that serve beer, bags to the grocery store and cutlery on your lunch breaks.
As you begin to show up with your reusables again, if any of these establishments balk at allowing you to use them, please direct them to reach out to us at Circular Philadelphia for help in navigating how to safely allow reusable containers in their stores.
And let’s also hope that the Tiffin pilot gets up and running again soon. Because we’re not going to get to a truly circular system for reusables if the onus is always on the consumer to bring their reusable coffee mugs or food containers. Bigger and better systems are coming and Circular Philadelphia looks forward to helping jumpstart these systems in Philadelphia.