According to The Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative roughly 113 billion disposable cups, 39 billion disposable eating utensils and 29 billion disposable plates are used in the U.S. each year. Much of this tonnage is non-recyclable and non-biodegradable. Add to that the food ingredient packaging—cans, jars, cereal boxes, plastic beverage jugs—and one can see how much of an impact food packaging has on the environment.
Fortunately, many manufacturers and restaurants are as concerned as consumers are. The innovative approaches to packaging are helping to reduce the amount of waste and the environmental impact of that waste, which winds up in landfills.
Less is More
PleatPakâ„¢ is a new wrap for sandwiches manufactured by Greendustries, a company with offices in Florida and Paris, France. Its clever wrapping technique eliminates need for a paper box to hold wrapped burgers or sandwiches. The wrapper holds the sandwich together and keeps its ingredients from spilling out from the bread or bun for one-handed, on-the-go dining. Less packaging means less packaging going into a landfill.
Green Box is a pizza box that thinks it’s a plate—four to be exact. The brainchild of e.c.o. Incorporated, Green Box is made of recycled material. The top of the box breaks down into serving plates, while the bottom converts to a storage container for any leftovers. The Green Box is being reviewed for use by chains such as Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s.
â€˜Recycle-villeâ€™ now at Burgerville
Burgerville, a 39-unit restaurant chain headquartered in Vancouver, Wash., has long been committed to being a good steward of the environment. The company has built programs with several â€˜sustainability colleagues,â€™ suppliers such as International Paper and Coca-Cola. Burgerville is the first restaurant chain in the U.S. to launch commercially compostable soda and hot cups, and food containers, which are part of International Paper’s ecotainerÂ® line. The cups and lids are made from renewable resources and are available in a variety of sizes.
When Burgerville diners are done with their meal, they don’t have far to go to recycle. Burgerville units all have recycling centers inside, as part of an employee-led recycling and composting program.
Everything old is new again. Why canned goods are good for the environment.
Frozen food ingredients have long been considered the optimal format for preserving freshness, texture and flavor. Truitt Brothers, a food processing company in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, has developed new ways to enhance the quality of canned and vacuum-packed food items that have quality and flavor levels comparable to frozen items—and do so in a more eco-friendly way than frozen items.
Peter Truitt, President of Truitt Brothers, notes, â€˜When we (consumers) evaluate a product or service we tend to evaluate the here and now, the present, without honestly reflecting on the upstream implications—how the product gets to us—and the downstream—what happens to the product packaging after we’re done with it.â€™
Shelf stable, canned and vacuum-packed items have a more positive environmental impact than their frozen counterparts. Frozen distribution and storage is a huge source of CO2 because of the gases sent into the atmosphere from the coolants used in refrigerated equipment. These coolants are present in both refrigerated trucks and the cold storage equipment operators have back-of-house. In addition, shelf stable products are fine without refrigeration for 18 months and beyond. Operators save energy because they can manage with fewer frozen or refrigerated walk-ins or equipment, so there are energy savings throughout the distribution and use of these products.
Truitt adds, â€˜If an operator is serious about doing better for the environment, they can’t ignore dry storage items such as canned goods.â€™
Paper, plastic or compostable?
If given a choice at a grocery store, most people would choose a paper bag, thinking it’s the better environmental option. The reality is both paper and plastic go into a landfill more frequently than either is sent to a recycling facility. But plastic bags do not release gas into the atmosphere. Paper releases methane as it decomposes, which is 38% more potent than CO2. So the paper bag actually has a greater short-term, negative impact.
Of course, the paper bag breaks down, while the plastic will stick around for thousands of years. At the end of the day, it’s better if both types of items were sent to a recycling facility instead.
For takeout containers and disposable dinnerware, one such solution is BAREâ„¢ from Solo Cup Company. BARE stands for the phrase â€˜Bringing Alternative Resources for the Environment.â€™ Plates, cups and hinged containers are made from either sugarcane or paper raw materials, and all are compostable in commercial composting facilities. This product is available in foodservice, regional grocery and nationally at Target. Paper items are SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) certified and are microwavable. The line offers foodservice operators yet another choice when it comes to takeout and service packaging.
â€˜Since one size does not fit all in the sustainability arena, there is no right answer for everyone. Each choice has a trade-off and no choice offers a perfect solution for all operators. We believe options and education surrounding those options are necessary so that operators can make the right choice for them based on their own sustainability objectives, budgets, customer demands and the recycling or composting infrastructures that are available to them,â€™ according to Kim Frankovich, Vice President of Sustainability, Solo Cup Company.