San Francisco Launches Reusable Incentive Programs as Part of Small Business Week to Help Restaurants Reduce Waste and Save Money

The new initiative builds on the City’s larger efforts to reach its zero waste climate goals and will help cut down on plastic pollution by giving businesses the resources to obtain reusable food ware items
May 12, 2023

San Francisco, CA – Today, Mayor London N. Breed and the San Francisco Environment Department (SF Environment) announced the launch of a new program as part of Small Business Week that will support restaurants to transition away from single-use disposable foodware items to reusables, including cups, plates, and utensils. The new Commercial Reuse Program builds on a pilot program and partnership between ReThink Disposables and SF Environment, which launched in 2019.   

The new program leverages environmental best practices to offer small businesses the financial assistance they need to make more sustainable choices. Additionally, free technical assistance will be available and a $500 incentive to help dine-in restaurants and cafés buy reusable foodware and utensils to replace single-use disposable items. The switch to reusables saves small businesses money by dramatically reducing their need to purchase single-use disposable foodware, ultimately generating significantly less waste and lowering their refuse costs as well.    

“We all share the responsibility to advance our goals for climate health and resiliency, and while San Francisco leads the nation in sustainability, there’s still a lot of work we must do,” said Mayor London Breed. "As the City continues to support small business recovery, it's clear from this program that reusables not only help save money for the business, it helps advance San Francisco’s Climate Action Goals to reduce solid waste generation 15% below 2015 levels and reduce disposal to landfill 50% below 2015 levels by 2030.”   

To qualify for the program, restaurants and cafés with on-site dining must be located in San Francisco and currently using single-use disposables for dine-in customers. The incentive program will run for two years and provide up to $500 dollars for each restaurant that signs up. The Commercial Reuse Program can assist 200 restaurants each year.    

Upon enrollment, SF Environment will work with businesses to assess their current practices and provide technical assistance to help the restaurant transition to reusable foodware systems. Staff at restaurants that have relied on single-use disposables will be trained to handle reusable foodware, including how to incorporate washing and bussing into their food service routine.    

“Our restaurants are the heart and soul of San Francisco,” said Tyrone Jue, Acting Director of SF Environment. “By going green and saving with reusables, this program proves that sustainability and profitability can go hand in hand.”   

“All businesses are still recovering from the economic devastation of COVID-19, and every dollar counts,” said Katy Tang, Director of the Office of Small Business. “SF Environment’s direct support for on-site dining restaurants to help eliminate some single-use items will go a long way, and I’m excited to hear this new program will be available to businesses in the next few years. This is an incredible opportunity for businesses to save money and practice sustainably.”    

In 2019, the pilot enrolled 120 businesses across the City and achieved remarkable financial and environmental results by purchasing fewer single-use items, which decreased their disposal needs and therefore their refuse collection costs. 90% of the businesses surveyed reported that they intended to continue using reusables.    

In some detailed case studies from the pilot, one restaurant saved upward of $30,000 year over year, but most saved between $2,000 and $20,000. For example, The House of Dim Sum located in Chinatown made an upfront investment of $429 and eliminated the disposal of 2.2 million single-use items that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill or on San Francisco streets. Today, House of Dim Sum is saving $33,561 a year, while its customers use stainless steel, durable baskets, and reusable plates.    

“It really is amazing to see savings that come from investing in items that don’t get thrown out after single use,” said House of Dim sum owner, Ying Huang. “I encourage other businesses to go through the Commercial Reuse Program to save money and eliminate single-use disposable items.”    

“As new participants in the program, we have already seen considerable changes to our waste generation and a reduction in our refuse bill,” said husband and wife and co-owners of Que Chulada, Maritza Castillo, and Salvador Cervantes. “So far, we have been able to reduce our waste pickup from three times to just twice a week. We’re excited to see the continued cost savings add up.”    

Enrollment is currently open. Restaurants interested in the program can visit to sign up for a consultation. SF Environment staff will help with purchasing, delivery, and set-up of the new reusable foodware items. The program and incentives are open to any restaurant that offers on-site dining and uses single-use disposables. Assistance is available in Chinese and Spanish.