Selecting FSW: Lifecycle Considerations

The predicted functional life of single-use FSW in a school cafeteria is about 20 minutes.1

The time and resources needed to extract the raw or recycled material, process it, form it, and transport it is much more extensive than how long it is designed to be used. The waste of single-use items, particularly plastic, can contribute to increased waste going to the landfill, air pollution from incinerating waste, and microplastic contamination of marine life.

Reusable FSW’s functional life is on the scale of years.

With the number of uses being one of the critical factors in determining their maximum benefit along with the cleaning process, reusables tend to have a more favorable profile than single-use overall.2 However, some materials used to make reusables can have a negative environmental impact during their life, including during extraction of raw materials, how they are processed, and where they ultimately end up. Lifecycle concerns for plastics include exposure to toxic chemicals during manufacture, use and disposal3, increased risk for chronic diseases4, and climate change impacts from increased fossil fuel consumption.

We strongly recommend a shift to reusables.

There are many factors to consider when choosing food serviceware such as function, cost and environmental impact. While there is a general public understanding about waste concerns, more awareness is needed about toxic chemicals in FSW. We are highlighting some of the inherent trade-offs, especially the toxicity of materials, along with factors such as resource use, and waste impacts to help you find the most viable options for your school district.

Appendices and Citations

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Ditching Disposables A Toolkit for Healthier Foodware in K-12 Schools