Restaurant Sustainability in the Age of Bans: What You Need to Know

At this rate, in 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Stats like this terrify consumers; in fact, 66 percent of global consumers are willing to spend more with sustainable brands, while upwards of 73 percent of millennials are.

Adding sustainable initiatives to your restaurant can bring in a huge new customer base passionate about doing good for the planet. And in many localities, environmental initiatives have become mandatory. 85 towns and cities in Massachusetts have passed plastic bag bans or fees. Last summer, Seattle became the first municipality in the U.S. to ban plastic straws. The state of California banned plastic bags entirely, and most recently banned straws (except upon request) in full-service restaurants. Both Baltimore and New York City have now banned restaurants and other establishments from handing out food in styrofoam containers. Advocates have targeted these specific products because they aren’t easily recyclable; in fact, the majority of recycling plants don’t accept them.

In addition, this year, China — the country to which the U.S. shipped 16 million tons of recyclable waste in 2016 — banned the import of 24 recyclable materials. This means the U.S. needs to find a new place to recycle our millions of tons of waste… or seriously reduce it.

Many restaurants are answering the call from millennials and consumers who seek out eco-friendly brands. Classic coffee cups aren’t recyclable due to their laminated surface, so Starbucks is testing ways to make their cups recyclable while withstanding high temperatures. They’ve also started doing away with straws and replaced their lids accordingly. McDonald’s has promised to use 100 percent sustainable customer packaging by 2025.

These large brands have ample resources to make an impact. But embarking on restaurant sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean you need a ton of resources. To get started, brands should consider material, functionality, and affordability when switching their restaurant packaging.

This guide, released by the non-profit Product Stewardship Institute, takes a restaurant brand through a step-by-step process to reduce its plastic footprint, and includes examples and results from other brands that have done so. Steps include:

  1. Measure Your Existing Plastic Footprint: Use the online calculator to analyze how much plastic your business uses and the current cost of those products.
  2. Create a Plastic Reduction Plan + Get Results: This section of the guide is full of strategies to eliminate specific single-use plastic items, reduce the amount you give away, replace disposables with reusables, and/or switch to fully recyclable options, depending on what works best for your business. Calculate the costs and savings of switching to reusable or recyclable options with this calculator.

Once you switch packaging, or start another environmental initiative, don’t allow your efforts to fall silent: promote them! Add your initiatives to your website, promote them on social media (particularly around Earth Month in April), write up a blog post, add it to your in-app marketing, and create in-store signage. Not only does the earth benefit, but your business does, too.

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Suzy Whalen

Suzy Whalen

Suzy is the B2B Marketing Manager at LevelUp, where she brings the conference circuit to life with food, fun, and cool (yet useful) swag. When she isn’t coordinating conferences, you can find Suzy planning her own travel, bouncing around the gym, or crossing off her list of Boston restaurants to try.

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