The issue of waste, especially on the corporate scale, is a topic that cannot be discussed frequently enough. The issues multiply on a daily basis, from the amount of food that gets thrown away each night after closing to the sheer magnitude of the amount of garbage we produce and resources we consume. It's such a sizable issue that many consumers, as well as restaurant owners, tend to turn a blind eye, assuming that creating a significant-enough solution is a feat too mountainous to tackle.
The Consumer Viewpoint
Did you know that, according to a study conducted by the National Restaurant Association just two years ago, 60% of consumers would sooner patronize a restaurant that recycles as opposed to one that didn't? About half of consumers even said that they'd pay some 10 percent more for a restaurant visit if they knew that restaurant was practicing sustainability. And finally, the vast majority of consumers – about 85% -- agreed that they'd sort garbage into designated bins for recycling if restaurants made them available. One could safely assume that implementing a recycling program into a restaurant's business model would most certainly benefit company traffic – not to mention what it would do for the earth. As a matter of fact, 18% of restaurants who switched to “greener” initiatives stated that business improved since doing so, while 70% said that it stayed relatively the same – so what have you got to lose?
The Major Offenses
Despite the clear demand for reducing waste in the food biz, restaurants are still one of the biggest culprits of wasting goods. For example, did you know that we waste about 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption per year? That's about a third of all the food we make worldwide. Furthermore, a large portion of food businesses, both fast food and fine dining, use Styrofoam™ take-out containers. Styrofoam™ and all other plastics take up space in landfills and become a "permanent part" of the environment after they are used. Plastic containers and bags are also frequently used, and a common offender in the food industry. The manufacturing process uses non-renewable resources and contributes significantly to various types of pollution.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, reducing waste in the restaurant industry is pretty easy. For one, include sustainability as a factor when choosing your carryout containers. Swapping out your plastic or Styrofoam™ for paperboard food boxes is a huge step. Having paperboard to-go boxes encourages diners to take their uneaten food home with them, helping reduce waste and eliminating all the negative consequences of using Styrofoam™ and plastic. Paperboard materials are extremely recyclable and are sometimes already made from post-consumer materials as well.
Many restaurants are warming up to the idea of composting food waste by pairing up with local farmers or creating an on-site compost. This helps to enrich the soil, promoting agriculture while also reducing the amount of food that goes to waste.
Most restaurants already have established recycling programs, but if yours hasn't, consider making it a top priority for your business. It takes more than putting bottles and cans in a separate bin – there are recycling programs for various types of papers, water and more that can make a huge difference.
Since sustainability is becoming an increasingly large cultural conflict, now is the time to get on board. Despite the amount of waste restaurants put out, it's also particularly easy to make small changes that have significant impacts, which is a unique advantage to food producers.