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June 16th is World Refill Day! Now We Just Need an Updated Health Code that Supports Refillables!

Did you know that June 16th is World Refill Day? This is a global public awareness effort to prevent plastic pollution and help people live with less waste. Choose to Reuse and join millions of people around the world taking action to reduce plastic pollution. It's time for a Refill Revolution!

There are so many ways to reduce plastic pollution and choosing refillables is a fantastic way to start, both as individuals and a as a society. Imagine that with just a 10% increase in the market share of refillable bottles, the soft drink industry could decrease marine plastic pollution by up to 7.6 BILLION bottles.

Reuse ALWAYS Wins

In 2018, the Department of Environmental Quality published a report showing that the four attributes of packaging materials that are popularly considered sustainable are in fact rarely if ever a better option than reusables. Yet, nearly 1 trillion disposable food service products are used each year in the United States. Fortunately, there’s a new reuse economy emerging for food service with the potential to completely disrupt the disposable food-service paradigm.

Reuse Wins,” is a groundbreaking new report authored by Upstream Policy Director, Miriam Gordon. This comprehensive report demonstrates that for the environment, for business and for investors, reuse beats single-use every time. 

The Challenge

What do we do when an outdated health code prevents us from refilling? And when there is confusion and discrepancy about what the code even means? Why in some stores can you use a reusable shopping bag, but not a reusable produce bag? Why do baristas use a brand new cup to pour a coffee into our refillable cups? These glitches in the system need to be cleared up if we are going to make a drastic change in our plastic consumption.

As the Reuse Wins report explains, state health codes set the standard for how to wash food service-ware and whether or not a customer’s personal cup or container can be filled. The state codes, based on guidance from the federal Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code, dictate the standards that food businesses must meet. The federal code allows refilling of customer’s beverage cups and food containers according to certain specifications that prevent cross-contamination. Even though local health codes largely mimic the federal code, many businesses still will NOT fill personal cups or containers, citing concerns about health code violations.

Success Story in California

In California, the state retail food code permitted filling a customer’s personal cup and also allowed filling a food container as long as it was done in a manner that avoided contamination. However, not many people knew what that looked policy looked like in real life. Some health inspectors told food businesses not to do it. In 2019, the state legislature enacted AB 619 in order to remove the confusion and pave the way for reusable cup and container systems to thrive.

The moral of the story is that local activists and municipal partners should ensure that state health codes ENABLE rather than hinder reusables.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the confusion over the safety of reusables, particularly BYO cups and containers. Check out this post as a reminder of why reusables are still a safe bet.

It's Time to Join Forces and Tackle this Problem!
There has been a long standing issue of health code interfering with sustainability efforts. Attempts to address this in the past have hit walls and the COVID-19 pandemic forced a mostly unnecessary back-peddling on reusables. But now we have some momentum and dedicated volunteers are helping gather information. We are also working to identifying allies to connect with in order to build a larger coalition of people who want to push for this needed change.
This effort is just taking shape, but we need people like YOU to help build it!