The foodservice industry push to get greener shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, the efforts will intensify, if the recent Nation’s Restaurant News survey is any indication. The magazine polled nearly 2,000 chefs on anticipated trends for 2010. Of the top ten, half of the responses fell into sustainability, eco-friendly, or organic categories.
As an operator, if you don’t have an action plan to respond the consumer’s increasing demand for greater eco-responsibility, your competitor surely does.
There are multiple ways we can make a difference including packaging.
The good news in recycling is that small changes add up to big benefits. For example, if every American household recycled just one out of every ten high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles they used, it would keep 200 million pounds of the plastic out of landfills every year. Typical plastic bottles, glass and cardboard are now easily identifiable as recyclable. When consumers understand the benefits of recycling it’s easier for them to get on the recycling bandwagon. Packaging that doesn’t appear to be easily recyclable is less likely to be disposed of in a proper way.
According to Chris Moyer, Manager of Conserve, the environmental initiative of the National Restaurant Association, â€˜Packaging is one area in which restaurateurs can make their operations greener before, during and after their guests’ meals by diverting waste from landfills. Many restaurateurs are reducing the amount of packaging entering their restaurants by seeking out products that use less cardboard, paper and plastic packaging, or buying concentrates and products shipped in reusable, recycled, or recyclable materials.”
“Operators also offer condiments in bulk rather than in single-serve containers, and use containers made of compostable or biodegradable materials for takeout items,” Moyer says. “No matter what kind of packaging a restaurant is using, when it comes to waste diversion and being greener, less is always more â€“ and we’re seeing more and more restaurants doing business with that in mind.â€™ Learn more about solutions for sustainability at the Conserve website.
The ideal disposable on the market is one that’s 100% compostable and plant-based, that can be taken home for diners’ compost piles or even at local restaurants. For a disposable that is easily recycled in-house, try biodegradable plastic paired with visible recycling stations. But remember, even recyclable products should be checked out. Sustainable options may not be compostable, or recyclable packaging may be made in a factory that isn’t non-toxic. Knowing where your disposables came from and where they’ll end up increases your eco-credibility with your customers.
If your consumers would balk at the idea of recycling, consider upcycling, which is taking waste or used products and turning them into something of greater value. On a small scale, you can be part of the upcycle by repurposing found items such as dÃ©cor, or using vintage or antique dishes in the restaurant or for themed catering events.
The National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot Survey for 2010 cites â€˜environmentally friendly kitchen equipmentâ€™ as the top equipment trend for the next year. What restaurant would not want to learn how to save as much as $1,200 in annual operating costs by learning ways to be more energy-efficient? The first step is an energy audit at your restaurant operation, which can reveal hidden weaknesses that cost money and make efforts to go green one-sided. When an energy audit is too extensive, a walk-through eco-survey of local business – like those from Carbon Trust in the U.K. or the Green Restaurant Association in the U.S. can pinpoint power problems. In Britain, consumers can purchase an energy monitor from Efergy which helps homeowners identify opportunities for power savings.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines compost as â€˜organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants.â€™ Using compost can reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers, provide at cost savings of at least 50 percent over conventional soil, water and air pollution remediation technologies. Best of all, compost can capture and destroy 99.6 percent of industrial volatile organic chemicals in contaminated air. Considering Americans dump the equivalent of more than 21 million shopping bags full of food into landfills every year, diverting that food waste to composting programs can result in big boosts to the environment.
So how can restaurants play a part? For restaurants that may be short on land, small-space composting is more than just possible, it’s convenient. If restaurants are not going to garden, one option is to donate the fruits of their operation to a farmers’ market or co-op. Burgerville, the West Coast fast food chain, practices small-space composting at each of its 39 units. To find how Burgerville does it, click here. More composting how-tos can be found at the EPA website and at Planet Green.
According to the Green Restaurant Association, 80 percent of consumers identify themselves as being environmentally concerned. These consumers walk their talk by not only investing in socially responsible investment funds, but patronizing businesses that also do their part for the environment. Make sure you don’t just connect your sustainability practices to your recycling plan; make sure you let your customers know that you’re doing it. A small call-out on the menu lets diners know that leftover food will go into the compost for future gardening, or that their 100% plant-based takeout containers can biodegrade in their own backyards. Getting the devoted environmentalists and the eco-casual crowd involved in your sustainability plans builds an invaluable connection between you and your consumer.
For more examples of sustainability in restaurants, tips on packaging and recycling, and a look at eco-culture and all things green, visit Green Maven.