Serving Seniors and the Environment with Reusable Foodware
Every weekday at lunchtime, 12 Senior Meal Program sites run by Spectrum Community Services come alive across Alameda County, with hundreds of residents over 60, lining up to pick up delicious, nutritious meals, served hot and ready to take home. At more than half the sites, the meals are no longer dished up in disposable containers, but are instead served in reusable clamshells and lidded soup cups, to be carried away in reusable bags. Made from BPA-free polypropylene, the containers can be safely reheated in a microwave and reused well over 500 times with proper care. On their next visit to a Spectrum site, seniors drop off the empty, rinsed containers in designated collection bins for washing and reuse.
The change was made possible by Bay Area-based company Sparkl Reusables and a $20,000 Reusable Foodware Pilot Project grant from StopWaste. “The grant covered start-up costs to buy additional inventory, hire and train staff, and ramp up operations,” says Sparkl founder Paul Liotsakis. “With all that in place now, it’s great to see the large volume of disposables we’re preventing—currently around 10,000 pieces each month.”
On a typical day, Sparkl’s drivers deliver clean containers to Spectrum’s central kitchen where they are filled with freshly prepared, hot meals and brought to the program’s pickup sites at senior centers, churches, and other central locations. On their return trip, Sparkl staff pick up the used, empty containers and take them to commercial dishwashing facilities, all certified and in good standing with local health departments. “Many of our partner wash sites sit idle at certain times, and that’s when we use them. It’s another way to make the project efficient,” explains Liotsakis.
Spectrum’s customers have welcomed the change, commenting that “the reusable containers are better than the paper ones. There are no spills, and the food is hotter.” Besides preventing waste, Spectrum’s meal sites save much needed funds, previously spent on the recurring purchases of single-use containers. In addition, Sparkl worked with Oakland’s Downtown Streets Team to hire staff for the project, creating “green” career pathways for individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. “The project shows that we can do right by people and the planet if we just think outside the box,” concludes Liotsakis.