A top-down shot of many different types of take-out food in containers on a turquoise backdrop
Photo: Cristiano Pinto / Unsplash

Sue Chiang: the ‘Disposable’ Foodware Dilemma

Posted by Cora Preston on Tuesday, May 17 2022


Sue Chiang

Switzer Fellow Sue Chiang and her colleague Ben Schleifer at Center for Environmental Health (CEH) published a guest blog for City Health on how Eco-Friendly Purchasing supports a shift to better foodware for healthier people and planet. The following is an excerpt from the blog- visit the original post for the full article. 

Americans use an estimated one trillion disposable food service products each year. In addition to the environmental impact from this massive amount of single-use waste, foodware can contain toxic chemicals that can lead to serious health issues, including reproductive and developmental toxicity, autoimmune and metabolic disorders, respiratory issues, neurodevelopmental effects, and cancer.

Fortunately, cities are positioned to lead by example by purchasing eco-friendly products and services. Eco-Friendly Purchasing policies promote sourcing and purchasing better goods and services that benefit human health and the environment. Environmentally preferable products and services can lessen people’s exposures to a wide variety of harmful chemicals — and the purchasing decisions that cities make can decrease demand for the extraction, manufacturing, and disposal of toxic chemicals and materials in the first place.

CityHealth included Eco-Friendly Purchasing in its 2.0 policy package because evidence linked the policy to better health outcomes, it has a track record of bipartisan support, and it has the potential to promote health equity. CityHealth partnered with the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a national nonprofit dedicated to protecting people and the environment from toxic chemicals, to provide expertise and technical assistance to help cities adopt these policies.

CityHealth’s Eco-Friendly Purchasing policy covers three product categories: cleaning supplies, furnishings (such as furniture, carpeting and flooring), and foodware. These product categories were chosen because they can contain chemicals that pose a significant threat to human health throughout the product lifecycle, have a disproportionately high impact on workers and people with lower wealth, are typically purchased in large quantities by cities, and can readily be replaced with safer alternatives. To earn a gold or silver CityHealth medal, cities must meet the performance requirements for one of the three product categories. Cities can earn a bronze medal by adopting an Eco-Friendly Purchasing policy that requires annual reporting.

This blog takes a deeper dive into disposable foodware — and why cities should prioritize shifting their purchasing to eco-friendly alternatives. 

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