How restaurant and food business owner/operators
can reduce plastic in food prep, service, and delivery
There’s so much plastic served along with food at restaurants and included with take-out orders. Some of the most common plastic items include:
Plastic litter from takeout orders — including cups, plates, cutlery, and straws — is a primary source of the approximately 20 million metric tons of plastic pollution and counting that sweeps into the natural environment annually. Outdoors, plastics break apart into small pieces rather than break down benignly, harming wildlife and harming human health. More than 561 billion individual plastic utensils are used by Americans every year. These items are not easily recycled and like all plastic stuff, they most often end up in our environment, landfills, and incinerators. There, they leak harmful substances into the Earth and our bodies while they break up into tiny pieces, and also release climate-warming greenhouse gases. The use of polystyrene foam has serious health consequences, and must be eliminated for a restaurant to be designated as Certified Green Restaurant. Like all plastics, polystyrene foam is not biodegradable.
Plastics are rarely recycled and reusables are the solution. Less than 10% of all plastics ever made have been recycled. Because making new plastic is cheap and recycled plastic materials tend to be lower quality, there’s less market incentive to recycle. Instead, plastic waste is often landfilled, incinerated, and/or shipped to developing countries that don’t have the infrastructure to manage such an influx of trash, and many are now refusing to take it. While governments and waste haulers can economically benefit from these waste shipping arrangements, the communities into which waste is forced suffer from the physical and mental consequences of exposure to plastic and other trash.
As a business owner, there’s a lot you can do to make it easier for your eco-conscious customers to avoid getting a side of plastic with their meal and contribute to the larger cultural shift needed to solve the plastic pollution crisis.
#SkipTheStuff by requiring takeout and delivery “extras” — like single-use utensils, straws, condiments, napkins, and more — to be provided only upon request. If your customers need them, they can get them. If they don’t, no need to waste. Require food and drink to be served to dine-in customers on reusable foodware.
Check out the UP Scorecard, a revolutionary free online resource that can help restaurants, concert and sports venues, and other businesses choose plastic-free and sustainable packaging for food and drinks. The UP Scorecard is the result of an unprecedented cross-industry collaboration of leading foodservice companies, environmental NGOs, and technical experts.
The first step is to audit what you purchase and what actually gets used by your customers, from delivery and food preparation to storage and disposal. Include monthly order size and costs for all of the plastic items you use. Investigate plastic-free alternatives and costs for each of the items (see section below). Ask some key questions: Is this item (i.e. coffee stirrers) necessary? Is it available in a reusable material? Is it available in something other than plastic? Check out these helpful resources and tips:
“Many restaurants and businesses are already making a difference, such as ditching plastic straws, providing reusable utensils, plates, and cups, accepting reusables that customers bring, and offering reusable or plastic-free take-out containers. But there is more that can be done. Leading by example in making the changes towards becoming plastic free and advocating in support of legislation that reduces plastic production and waste is the most valuable and effective thing a business or restaurant can do to help reduce plastic pollution.”- Reusable LA