There are three areas to think about when greening your food service operation. Your building envelope and energy consumption, waste management strategies and the food itself. In this article we focus on how to reduce the environmental impact of the waste you generate through your business.
Of course, the greenest option is to serve food and beverages on reusable plates, in glasses or mugs and offer cloth napkins, which also makes for a very pleasant and memorable dining experience for your customers. However, if that is not possible, another strategy is to use compostable and/or biodegradable dinnerware, silverware, take-out containers and recycled paper napkins. These products are made from plant-based and other renewable materials rather than petroleum products and break down more quickly than traditional plastic and styrofoam options. The benefits are great: less dependence on non-renewable and foreign oil, less waste in landfills, less toxins leaking into our food and bodies, and creation of useful compost material. ( Polystyrene— aka Styrofoam— is one of the worst offenders. The GAP SBN encourages members to discontinue their use of styrofoam whenever possible. Read more about the environmental and health impacts here. )
Of course, there are cons to think about when making the switch to biodegradables and compostables. The cost for these containers is sometimes double that of conventional options, which can be a hindrance for even the most well-intentioned business owner. However, member businesses of the SBN who use these products say they help build relationships with customers who inquire about the practice and appreciate the efforts of the business. Trail users expecting to support a green business may be disappointed to receive their otherwise delicious meal on a plastic or styrofoam plate. First impressions are important, and serving food in a more sustainable container is a great, visible way to show your commitment to sustainability. This can encourage repeat business and word of mouth endorsements, which are very important along the Great Allegheny Passage.
Think about partnering with other SBN members when placing orders to reduce overall costs! For take-out containers, some businesses charge a minimal fee (as little as 5 cents) for customers using the items. Most won’t mind once you explain the reasoning, plus it will make them consider the true cost of their decision as well. Still other businesses offer a small discount for customers who bring their own reusable containers for their leftovers. Post any other creative solutions in the comments section!
Below is a brief list of resources on eco-friendly food service containers. Be sure to do your own research too to find what will work best for you!
foldpak.com offers the necessities for greening your single-use food-service items.
greenrestaurants.org is a good starting place for finding green products used in the food-service industry.
dirtworks.net, based in VT, offers a full range of products to order (and their specs), as well as some interesting facts about composting, waste and recycling.