How to Eliminate Single-Use Plastics in the Restaurant Industry
By Brenda Stewart
A few weeks ago I took my parents out to brunch. As we sat down, the server came over with waters and paper straws, which was really nice of him. I didn’t use the straw because I don’t like the texture or feeling of paper in my mouth. However, I thought it was great they were making positive changes for the environment.
I guess our eyes were bigger than our stomachs that day. So, we decided to request some to-go boxes. The boxes that came out were plastic containers, which didn’t add up. I was a little taken back by the use of plastic containers in a restaurant that used paper straws. I mean, they sort of cancel each other out, right?
I probably freaked out the poor server when I requested a manager. I’m sure he thought, “There goes my tip!”
When the manager came over, I expressed appreciation to him. Not for the meal so much, but for the efforts he was making with the straws. I also asked if he was going to replace the plastic containers? He said they were ordering eco-friendly containers but they hadn’t come in yet. I kind of wish I had provided him with my contact info so he could let me know when that happened. That way I could politely add some pressure for him to make that happen with an incentive to return when it does!
That experience made me realize that restaurants use A LOT of single-use plastics. To-go containers, plasticware, to-go cups… You name it! Restaurants create mountains of unnecessary plastic waste.
It was encouraging to see the changes this particular restaurant had made. I wondered though… What is the restaurant industry doing as a whole to eliminate plastic waste? Have you ever wondered the same thing?
Are All Plastics Bad? Effects of Plastic Pollution
There are many different types of plastics. Most of these consist of man-made synthetic materials and chemicals. All of which are harmful to us and our environment.
In general, the synthetic making of plastics has harmful effects. However, it’s the single-use plastics that pose the biggest problem. Why? Well, because they are filling landfills faster than they can decompose.
As consumers, we buy and use plastic for its convenience and affordability. Think about how much plastic you use each day? The utensils, plastic bags, plastic containers, plastic cups, plastic toys, and plastic jewelry.
I’d be willing to bet this morning you used at least 15 plastic products before you even had your coffee! Think about it. You probably:
1. Turned off an alarm clock made of plastic
2. Sat on a plastic toilet seat
3. Opened a plastic door to your shower
4. Turned a plastic knob to turn the shower on
5. Squeezed body wash out of a plastic bottle
6. Pumped shampoo from a plastic bottle
7. Used conditioner from a plastic bottle
8. Dried off with a towel that was hanging on a plastic hook
9. Applied deodorant from a plastic container
10. Brushed your hair with a plastic brush or comb
11. Dried your hair with a plastic hair dryer
12. Styled your hair with product from a plastic bottle
13. Got toothpaste out of a tube that, at the very least, had a plastic cap
14. Brushed your teeth with a plastic toothbrush
15. Put on clothes made with plastic fibers
16. AND THEN MADE YOUR WAY TO A PLASTIC COFFEE POT!
These items take centuries to decompose, which sickens me. Even worse, these items sicken our environment! Some end up in our oceans, which is a growing problem.
But, did you know? The use of plastic is not “bad” in and of itself. Plastics are a more affordable alternative. They are a lightweight and flexible material which reduces the impact of shipping. Lighter weight means less fuel for ships. We use plastic on many items. Things such as cars, toys, prosthetics, medical adhesives, computers, and PVC pipes. The list goes on. Were it not for our irresponsible disposal of plastics, this would be a good thing.
Has the Single-Use Plastic Problem in Restaurants Been Solved?
Getting back to restaurants… No, the single-use plastic problem has not been solved by any means. Though more and more restaurants are taking an initiative to swap out their products. They are swapping to more eco-friendly solutions.
At the forefront of innovation is Footprint ─ a company born in Arizona. Their goal is to decrease single-use plastics in the restaurant industry. It is companies like these we need to stand behind.
Footprint uses technology and manufacturing platforms that influence processes. These processes design the most extensive options for decreasing single-use plastics.
Footprint is a sustainable technology company. They focus on reducing or eliminating plastics by developing revolutionary technologies. Their products are compostable, recyclable, biodegradable, and marine-degradable.
Since the 1950s, humans have created tons of plastics. We’re currently producing 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic every year and only 9% of plastics get recycled. Eight million metric tons end up in the ocean annually. That’s a lot of plastic pollution!
The negative environmental impacts of plastics are increasingly obvious. Hence, the growing demand for alternatives.
Many companies are trying to introduce and focus on mushroom packaging. Mushroom packaging biodegrades back into the Earth in 45 days. The restaurant industry’s priority needs to be designing and using eco-friendly products. These products also need to be ones that are affordable so restaurants can still make a profit.
Footprint has developed a range of biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable solutions. All of which protect our environment. Their products contain plant-based fibers. Plant-based vs fiber- based products are compostable, recyclable, biodegradable, and renewable. Plant based is microwave and oven safe.
These new technologies are refreshing to see. Footprint is leading the charge to change the production. They are evolving away from single-use plastics, to more eco-friendly, biodegradable options!
Ways That You Can Help Restaurants Cut Back on Single-Use Plastics
There are many ways you can help the restaurant industry to reduce the use of single-use plastics. Here are just a few to consider next time when you dine-in or take-out:
● Don’t take the plastic bag they offer you for just a single take-home container
If a bag is needed, ask for paper instead of plastic.
● If ordering for delivery or take-out to bring home, leave the plastic utensils and napkins at the restaurant. Use the silverware you have at home instead.
● If you think you’re going to have leftovers, bring your own take-out containers.
● Use glass jars to store leftovers at home and reuse them.
● Say no to plastic drink containers and lids. Bring your own reusable coffee or drink cup instead.
● And most importantly, speak up! Let restaurant owners know environmental friendliness influences which restaurants you will eat at. Like most companies, bottom lines drive decisions.
Infuse a Culture of Sustainability and Align Values
Restaurant owners are becoming more and more concerned and aware of their impact on the environment. Well, some of them at least!
There is a certain interest people take with businesses that align with their beliefs. When it comes to sustainability, millennials relate. Although it may be more costly, 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for an eco-friendly experience.
The Workplace Culture Report published a study on LinkedIn. Results showed that “9 out of 10 millennials, between the ages of 22 and 37, would consider taking a pay cut. They’d consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own.
Restaurant employers are aligning their business goals. These goals include values which align to their business models. They are attracting like-minded employees. Employees feel included and part of the cause when they share the same beliefs and values as their employer. They can help be a part of that cause and that in itself helps to motivate staff because they are a part of something.
It’s true! There’s a saying that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”. People really will want to work in a place where they believe in the cause. Millennials and others are getting on board with protecting our environment.
When an organization sets clear and defined values, it becomes a sort of baseline and code of conduct for employees to follow. These clear and defined values become a part of that organization’s culture. These values help guide and promote behaviors which in turn, reinforces brand identity.
What You Can do to Help!
It doesn’t take an act of God to make changes within the restaurant industry. But, it does take Legislation.
Making small changes is a great start. Changing an entire industry’s way of thinking to make positive change for the good of the environment is more challenging.
Get involved! Both the Surfrider Foundation and The Plastic Pollution Coalition are alliances. The Surfrider Foundation works with non-profit partners. The goals of these bills is to reduce millions of tons of plastic pollution entering our ocean. They started a program called Ocean Friendly Restaurants (OFR). OFR reduces plastic pollution at its source. OFR even recognizes restaurants that find ways to reduce waste. Since COVID policies are toady over looked and plastic bags, plastic straw policy’s are not being followed or overlooked.
The PPC is an alliance of more than 1200 organizations and businesses in 75 countries. Together they work toward a world free of plastic pollution.
There are always ways to get involved with Ocean Blue Project or other ocean or river cleanup organizations. If you don’t have the time to volunteer or organize a cleanup, I encourage you to purchase Ocean Blue swag at www.oceanblueproject.org to help support their cause!
Sharing information and educating people of any age can also help. Just talking to others about how much plastic we use in our lives and the amount of single-use plastics that accumulate can be a wake-up call for many!
5 Tips on How Restaurants Can Reduce Plastic Waste
1. Conduct a waste audit
2. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
3. Offer biodegradable alternatives or reusable materials
4. Think through the consequences
5. Make an alliance
Taking care of the environment is everyone’s responsibility. It is not a trend that just comes and goes. The Plastic Pollution Coalition empowers restaurants to make an alliance across the industry. They pledge to reduce single-use plastics and help the environment.
Footprint has developed packaging products that return to the earth. A lot of restaurants are taking steps to reduce their use of plastic.
Even the smallest of changes can make a great impact. That impact is exponential in saving our oceans, ocean-life, and planet.
Companies are showing interest and engaging. They are providing alternatives that are environmentally friendly for restaurant owners. Restaurants are adopting these alternatives. It’s proving to their customers they care about the environment, which keeps them coming back.
The next time you eat at a restaurant that doesn’t yet look to alternatives for single-use plastics in their industry, I challenge you. I challenge you to challenge them! Just like I did, when I had brunch with my parents. Look around and see if you can find ways to suggest alternatives.
Raise their awareness of the environmental impacts of plastic. Get the owners and managers attention. Tell them about Footprint or other companies who are aiming to accomplish similar goals. Share about all the good companies like Footprint have done to reduce plastics in the restaurant industry. The demand for the alternative options in restaurants starts with you!
Author Bio: Brenda Stewart is a freelance copywriter. She is an Air Force Veteran, has a Master’s in Public Health, and advocates for causes like ocean clean-ups and other environmental issues. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, she enjoys travel, beaches and warm weather, and Maryland crab cakes!