Bulk shopping is back in San Francisco. At the end of last month, after almost a year, The City finally lifted the suspension on self-service containers – provided stores follow the requirements for signage and disinfection stations.
“We’re delighted to have our bulk access back and our customers to be able to purchase the quantities they need,” said Cody Frost of Rainbow Grocery in the Mission District.
Before the pandemic, Rainbow’s lavish bulk department offered customers the ability to scoop the desired amounts of flour, tea leaves, rice, and other goodies into reusable containers. At the checkout, the staff weighed the containers and offered a small but estimated discount of $ 0.05. It was a great system for fans who wanted to save money and reduce waste.
After The City has enabled the department to reopen, customers can start scooping again. However, the new San Francisco Health Code continues to discourage the use of reusable items. Containers are only permitted if they are not touched by anyone else, not even at the till. The city also urges companies to consider providing disposable serving scoops or other utensils. This means stores like Rainbow need to come up with some creative solutions to accommodate personal containers and comply with city rules.
Instead, it would be better if health authorities lifted regulations on reusable products. Scientific research does not support these general limitations. Sending a message that single-use items are safer can have a profound impact on San Francisco’s ability to meet its waste goals and promote a reuse economy. City officials should take the opportunity to build on the exploding consumer demand for reusable products and reinvigorate the practice.
“It is a mystery that local health officials are slow to reverse these instructions,” said Miriam Gordon, program director at UPSTREAM, a nonprofit that works to help eliminate trash. “We understand the need to take a preventive approach, but science just doesn’t show that reusable products make people sick.”
The limitations stem from the outdated concern that people could get COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces. At the start of the pandemic, researchers found that the virus could linger on plastic and steel for days. The plastics industry ignored the details of this research and conjured up scary stories of germ-filled reusable products. Unfortunately, The City listened.
Today we know that the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces is very low. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that this route “is not viewed as a major cause of the virus spreading,” and the San Francisco Health Order also recognizes that COVID-19 is primarily human Human being spread through the air. While The City allowed reusable bags last July, it still treats containers and cups as scary and unsafe.
Not only is San Francisco’s approach anti-scientific, it could have lasting implications for the war on our throwaway culture. There are numerous studies that highlight the health and environmental risks of single-use items. San Francisco tackled this problem by encouraging customers to bring reusable containers to grocery stores and cups to coffee shops – a practice that is taking time to develop. Current health guidelines not only hinder this practice, but also encourage inaccurate reporting that single-use items are healthier.
Fortunately, this disturbing anti-science approach didn’t stop an explosion of reusable take-out and grocery stores in San Francisco during the pandemic. But it’s hard not to wonder what our trash cans would look like if local health officials hadn’t reset the movement.
“The reuse industry could have grown faster if it weren’t for the regulations that misrepresented that reusable is less safe than disposable,” said Gordon of UPSTREAM.
The city’s decision to allow bulk shopping is a positive sign that San Francisco is following the investigation. Hopefully containers and cups will follow soon and the glory days at Rainbow Grocery will return.
“Without a doubt, we will return to other safe and sustainable practices,” said Charles Sheehan of the San Francisco Department of Environment. “It just takes the latest science, a little patience, and the ability to adapt to the environment and get it right. That’s the San Francisco approach. “
Robyn Purchia is an environmental advocate, blogger and environmental activist who enjoys hiking, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the reviewer. Check them out on robynpurchia.com.
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