Close Subscribe

Get the Weekly Recap!!

Get recaps, exclusive offers, stories and discounts. We’ll never share your email address and you can opt out at any time, we promise.

ReThink Disposable is helping restaurants tackle Philly’s plastic problem
Philly

ReThink Disposable is helping restaurants tackle Philly’s plastic problem

This program from Clean Water Action helps businesses, government agencies, and consumers stop waterway plastic and litter at the source

Reduce, reuse, recycle: you’ve heard the phrase. What would come to mind as a fourth “r” when it comes to waste management?

According to Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund, it would be ReThink”.

Hungry For Change

In 2011, Clean Water Action launched ReThink Disposable, to shift the mindsets of business owners and their customers away from a “throwaway” culture. It is a technical assistance program designed to assist foodservice operators in reducing waste and cutting costs by replacing single-use packaging items with reusable alternatives.

NOAA and Plastic Free Restaurants funding brought the program to Philly last fall, and since then eight restaurants have already signed on.

First, Mercedes Forsyth, Rethink’s Zero Waste Specialist, meets with the business owner to determine what items can be reused, reduced, or switched out. “Start with something small like reusable utensils,” explained Forsyth. “See how it impacts your business and if your customers like it.”

Small changes lead to big eco-wins

The program offers up to $600 for a restaurant to switch from disposables to reusables, purchase items to support washing materials (like buying bus bins or stands), create signage to educate customers, and training staff. In return, that will save restaurant owners an average of $3,000-$22,000 in annual net cost savings.

Not only is the restaurant saving money, but the program removes 110,000 disposable packaging items per restaurant each year – which adds up for the environment. Benefits include reducing waste and waste collection service costs, preventing litter, and protecting local waterways.

Ice Cave and Bubble Tea.
Ice Cave and Bubble Tea cups before and after ReThink Disposable

Ironically, single-use items have an infinite lifetime. They can take 20 to 500 years to decompose, but they never fully disappear. Instead, pieces just get smaller –meanwhile, they leach chemicals, litter streets, harm wildlife, pollute waterways, and require a lot of resources to produce.

A 2022 study reported that 46 million tons of plastic waste is generated annually in the U.S. Of that, only five to six percent gets recycled, which is half the rate it was just a few years ago.

Changes as unique as the restaurants themselves

“The most sustainable thing you can do is reduce. It doesn’t cost anything. You can make straws and utensils optional. Instead of giving a wad pile of napkins with each order, use a napkin dispenser or cloth napkins to reduce waste.” said Forsyth.

At Ice Cave and Bubble Tea, boba is served as glassware instead of single-use plastic. You won’t find disposables when dining at Koreana or Jean’s Cafe. Instead ReThink has paid for new flatware, plates, as well as bins and trays to make bussing and washing easier.

Koreana before and after ReThink Disposable
Koreana utensils before and after participating in ReThink Disposable.

Philadelphia ReThink restaurant participants include:

  • Jean’s Café – 1334 Walnut St
  • Koreana Rittenhouse Square – 37 S 19th St
  • Ice Cave and Bubble Tea – 4520 Baltimore Ave
  • Lee’s Deli – 4700 Baltimore Ave
  • Desi Village – 4527 Baltimore Ave
  • Alif Brew and Mini Mart – 4501 Baltimore Ave
  • Salam Cafe and Market – 5532 Greene St
  • Fiesta Pizza – 4518 Baltimore Ave

Nationally, ReThink Disposable has helped 500+ businesses prevent 28 million pieces of trash from entering our waterways. Over the last decade, ReThink Disposable has expanded to CT, MA, MN, NJ, RI and PA.

What’s On ReThink’s Philly Menu?

Forsyth wants to partner with universities, schools, community kitchens, and food trucks. Her 2024 goal is to triple the number of program participants. With 6,000 restaurants in city limits, she has plenty of opportunities. Forsyth explained, “Even if I just worked with restaurants, I’d have enough to keep me busy for years.”

Propertiers can “ReThink” their restaurant or food service’s footprint by filling this interest form or contacting Mercedes at mforsyth@cleanwater.org or (231) 729-1552.

Tackling Philly’s litter problem will take a team effort. Here are just a few ways to support ReThink Disposables Pennsylvania by:

  • Reduce, reuse, and refuse as often as possible.
  • Don’t leave home without reusable bottles or flatware.
  • Patronize participating restaurants.
  • Donate to Clean Water Action.
  • Ask your favorite restaurant to sign up for the program.
  • Participate in river and litter cleanups.
  • Bring ReThink Disposable messaging and materials into your community outreach and education efforts.

Whether you’re in front or behind the counter in a Philadelphia restaurant, resolve to make “ReThink” your word of the year.

 If you want to encourage their cause, you can support ReThink Disposable! on their website. Support ReThink Disposable! | Clean Water Action

Become a Supporter!

If you love what we do you can support our mission with a one-time or monthly contribution.
array(4) {
  [0]=>
  object(WP_Term)#8501 (10) {
    ["term_id"]=>
    int(3241)
    ["name"]=>
    string(18) "Clean Water ACtion"
    ["slug"]=>
    string(18) "clean-water-action"
    ["term_group"]=>
    int(0)
    ["term_taxonomy_id"]=>
    int(3249)
    ["taxonomy"]=>
    string(8) "post_tag"
    ["description"]=>
    string(0) ""
    ["parent"]=>
    int(0)
    ["count"]=>
    int(3)
    ["filter"]=>
    string(3) "raw"
  }
  [1]=>
  object(WP_Term)#8502 (10) {
    ["term_id"]=>
    int(584)
    ["name"]=>
    string(12) "Philadelphia"
    ["slug"]=>
    string(12) "philadelphia"
    ["term_group"]=>
    int(0)
    ["term_taxonomy_id"]=>
    int(587)
    ["taxonomy"]=>
    string(8) "post_tag"
    ["description"]=>
    string(0) ""
    ["parent"]=>
    int(0)
    ["count"]=>
    int(195)
    ["filter"]=>
    string(3) "raw"
  }
  [2]=>
  object(WP_Term)#8503 (10) {
    ["term_id"]=>
    int(614)
    ["name"]=>
    string(7) "plastic"
    ["slug"]=>
    string(7) "plastic"
    ["term_group"]=>
    int(0)
    ["term_taxonomy_id"]=>
    int(617)
    ["taxonomy"]=>
    string(8) "post_tag"
    ["description"]=>
    string(0) ""
    ["parent"]=>
    int(0)
    ["count"]=>
    int(35)
    ["filter"]=>
    string(3) "raw"
  }
  [3]=>
  object(WP_Term)#8499 (10) {
    ["term_id"]=>
    int(4199)
    ["name"]=>
    string(18) "ReThink Disposable"
    ["slug"]=>
    string(18) "rethink-disposable"
    ["term_group"]=>
    int(0)
    ["term_taxonomy_id"]=>
    int(4207)
    ["taxonomy"]=>
    string(8) "post_tag"
    ["description"]=>
    string(0) ""
    ["parent"]=>
    int(0)
    ["count"]=>
    int(1)
    ["filter"]=>
    string(3) "raw"
  }
}
Inspired by her college internship with an ocean advocacy non-profit, Leslie started her career planning stream cleanups and writing about watershed issues. Leslie is an accomplished writer and social media expert. When she isn’t chasing a toddler, you can find her writing, planning events, cooking, reading, hiking, and helping brands tell their stories. View all posts by Leslie Hudson
Green Philly

Featured
In These
Great Spots: