It is more common than ever to read news about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch of plastic in the ocean, and how the restaurant industry is partly to blame. For instance, cities like Seattle have banned plastic straws. Many opponents simply cannot justify the short time a straw is used to then spend a lifetime in a landfill. There are many options today for restaurateurs to be more conscious consumers of greener products.
Thinking further about the plastic straw debate, the opposite side is skeptical of how much good doing away with them will actually do. The truth can only be understood by understanding the numbers behind the argument. Every day, Americans alone use 500 million plastic straws, enough to fill 125 school buses. Every day. Consider that for a few minutes.
Alternatives to Plastic Straws
Since usable, compostable straws have not been conjured into reality, many restaurants are opting out of straws completely. There have been many attempts with the concept of paper straws; however, they get flimsy after 20 minutes of use and can add a papery taste to your beverage. Doing away with straws seems to be favored as it not only saves the environment, it saves your bottom line.
Additional options aside from paper that are somewhat promising are bamboo and bucatini pasta straws. Both offer sturdy, sustainable, and compostable options. The only downside is cost, which either your business eats, or must be passed along to the customer. In an already increasingly expensive world, the option of going straw-free is again the favored alternative.
A last-ditch option that is showing slow interest are stainless steel straws. Unfortunately, right now they are certainly a novelty item, which leads to their ability to walk out the door with customers. Most owners find it is not worth the hassle.
Styrofoam Is a Thing of the Past
Packaging of to-go and ‘doggy-bags’ have historically been styrofoam based. Nowadays, it is a rarity to have leftovers packaged in actual styrofoam or oil-based plastic at restaurants. There are a lot of affordable options for biodegradable packaging including cardboard, recycled paperboard, corn-based, and sugarcane for plastic-like clamshell packaging. Another great thing about compostable packaging is that customers can add them to their own compost or their local green-recycling programs.
Keep in mind it’s important to research the sources of your biodegradable products for a greater environmental impact. There are many companies producing packaging products who do their best to have a small environmental footprint. Some have overarching missions to provide products with the smallest environmental impact possible, including operating through wind-powered factories. Others focus on using agricultural waste or using recycled products.
Additional Compostable and Green Options
It is anticipated that more eco-friendly, green, and compostable solutions will become widely incorporated over time. In the meantime, also consider the following opportunities:
- Talk with your employees. If you have one or more who are naturally motivated by green practices, have them help spread their enthusiasm to other staff. Additionally, incorporating ideas will need their buy-in, so be sure to discuss why changes are being made and why it is important to your restaurant’s success.
- Alternatives to plastic utensils. There are numerous options including sugarcane, agricultural waste-based, and edible utensils made from a mixture of wheat, jowar, and rice.
- Use quality ingredients from local sources and family farms. While lowering your environmental impact in this manner, you are also supporting your local economy.
- Start a recycling program starting with cardboard. Check with your local refuse and recycling providers to discover what options may be available.
- Start a composting program. Many local farmer associations are happy to help businesses get these off the ground.
- Manage food waste in better ways. Controlling food waste is important for many reasons such as controlling cost and reducing hunger.
- Create ingredient efficiencies by having specific measurements for recipes. Many POS systems have ways to help track inventory and potential food waste issues.
- Do customers always leave certain foods or portions of food on the plate? Find out why! If it is too much per serving, change the quantity. If it doesn’t taste good or customers generally do not like that part of the dish, consider changing it.
- Donate leftover prepared foods to shelters and food banks instead of throwing it away.
- Incorporate water-saving fixtures such as low-flush toilets, automatic faucets, low-flow valves, and faucet aerators. Many restaurants no longer serve water to guests unless asked, which saves on water.
- Consider energy-efficient lighting, appliances, and thermostats. A common update is to install motion-censors in bathrooms, so lights are on only when necessary.
Once you have incorporated some of these great ideas, be sure to reevaluate your needs for trash pickup. You may be surprised that you need something 25 to 50 percent smaller! Simply recycling clean cardboard can create savings of up to 20 percent of refuse space.
With more focus on the environment, ensuring your restaurant incorporates green, compostable, sustainable products is critical. Take time to review the products used in your restaurant for packaging and how efficient your ingredients are used to manage waste. Every part you do will be appreciated by customers and your community.