News release from Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainable Solutions and the Natural Resources Council of Maine
Augusta, ME (October 12, 2021) – Policy changes to Maine’s Food Code now allow businesses to save money and protect the environment by offering reusable and returnable take-out food containers. Environmental advocates and business owners applauded the move, noting it marks a significant change in state policy that will curb pollution and protect Maine’s woods, waters, and wildlife, while also giving businesses more options for serving their customers and reducing costs.
“This policy update gives Maine businesses the green light to save money and reduce their environmental impact by providing their customers with reusable and returnable take-out containers,” said Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The first step in keeping Maine beautiful is to move away from disposable food ware — the dominant source of litter and plastic pollution — and promote reuse.”
The updated policy is the result of findings from a research group convened by the University of Maine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions. They determined that provisions in the Food Code were hampering the efforts of interested businesses to offer reusable containers for take-out service. Under the updated code, any establishment regulated by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Health Inspection Program, including restaurants, workplace and school cafeterias, and mobile food trucks, can provide customers with reusable take-out food containers that can be returned for cleaning and safe reuse.
“With the pandemic and tight labor markets, these are very difficult times for Maine restaurants and the hospitality industry,” said Jared Entwistle, a University of Maine graduate student and former brewery owner who is leading the project for the Mitchell Center. “Maine’s new code allows interested restaurants the freedom to utilize reusable containers for take-out purchases. And research suggests that these programs not only have environmental benefits, but they can save restaurants considerable money.”
Restaurant and hospitality businesses nationwide are considering reusable food containers to cut costs and stem an alarming tide of plastic pollution from single-use packaging. Disposable food containers represent 8 of the top 10 most commonly littered items found in ocean clean-ups around the world, according to the Ocean Conservancy and International Ocean Cleanup.
Businesses in Maine can provide and clean reusable containers on their own, or they could choose to participate in a growing number of third-party systems that provide reusable containers with an established cleaning program. View an infographic about how reusable take-out food container systems work.
Health Inspection Program-licensed businesses interested in implementing reusable food containers can reach out to their District Health Inspector or call the main office line at (207) 287-5671.