The Clean Water Blog

ReThinking Institutions: Stopping Waste and Pollution at the Source

One of the toughest challenges working in the environmental movement is it can be difficult to point to a specific and measurable impact, in the same way that polluters can kid themselves they’re doing well, with their up-ticking sales and profit graphs.

It takes all of us working together, but measuring impact is where ReThink Disposable is different. We’re starting to put up some serious and significant numbers with our campaign to save businesses thousands of dollars by reducing their use of single-use disposable packaging that is ubiquitous in today’s food service industry. And we’re proud of our burgeoning achievement. Reducing the unnecessary consumption of so many single-use packaging products means conserving valuable resources, keeping tonnes of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and tons of waste from ending up in landfills or choking our waterways and wildlife.

Thanks to ReThink Disposable, more than 100 California food businesses and institutional dining operations have now saved more than $400,000 in packaging costs, stopped the use of more than 10 million items of disposable packaging—primarily single-use plastics—prevented more than 120,000 pounds of waste entering our treatment streams, and prevented many tons of greenhouse gases. We’ve also delivered countless smiles to customers across the state, enjoying a nicer dining experience as a result of our work.

The average small food business saves $4,000 annually by working with ReThink Disposable, and we’ve also started to see the opportunity for this program to inspire big impact change by scaling the program up to large campuses that feed thousands of students or workers daily. We’ve worked with two huge California institutions this year: the University of San Francisco, and a biotechnology firm Genentech.

  • At Genentech’s South San Francisco campus, we worked with one of nine campus cafes and saved $13,000 from avoided foodware purchases, prevented 11,500 pounds of waste, eliminated 1 million disposable items, and reduced 23 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. A link to a longer case study of this work is here.
  • At the University of San Francisco we saved more than $150,000 in disposable foodware costs by eliminating more than two million items, with no additional labor cost. We prevented 27,000 pounds of waste, and reduced 10 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The university has plans to implement the ReThink program across all its campus dining locations. A link to a longer case study of this work is here.

This program really is the little engine that could. We’ve been quietly growing our program’s reach and impact, working with businesses to demonstrate value, and auditing our results. By providing individualized attention and unique support for each and every business we work with, we are building efficiency into their operations. Not only can we show the return on investment for businesses, we can also demonstrate the return on investment for the environment.

This fall we plan to work with more large institutions as well as keeping up the work with small businesses. Our new website has a map of ReThink Disposable businesses you can support, and links to in-depth case studies for institutions like these.

If you’d like more information, get in touch.