The average restaurant produces about 100,000 pounds of trash each year. Considering the 660,936 restaurants in the United States alone, the total waste produced by the food service industry in 2021 is over 33 million tons.
And, in most cases, this all heads straight to the landfill.
You may feel overwhelmed by these numbers if you own your own restaurant, catering business, or club.
That's totally understandable. After all, how can you keep providing a quality customer experience without necessary amenities like to-go utensils, take-out containers, and straws?
This is an excellent question. And it's why the team here at Pick on Us is passionate about creating eco-friendly products for those in the food service industry.
In this blog, we’ll introduce you to nine products you can invest in that will enhance your customers’ experiences while making your restaurant more environmentally friendly.
Ready to learn more?
Eco-Friendliness and the Food Service Industry: Why it Matters
Before discussing what products make your restaurant more eco-friendly, we must address an important question.
Why should those working in food service care about creating eco-friendly businesses?
There are lots of reasons, actually.
As we mentioned earlier, restaurants are responsible for a lot of waste. But does the amount of trash restaurants create really matter in the grand scheme of things?
It sure does, and here's why.
1. Climate Effects
Trash pollution negatively affects the climate in at least two ways. First, if materials like plastics are incinerated, toxic gasses that contribute to global warming are released into the atmosphere. It can also lead to issues like acid rain.
Second, a large amount of trash ends up in the world’s oceans and rivers. The resulting pollution has been the cause of significant marine animal death, which disrupts and strains the food chain. For example, the Yamuna River in India has become “ecologically dead” due to waste and trash. This means that nothing living can survive in the river – no fish, frogs, plants, or any other creature you’d normally find living in a river.
2. Economic Effects
As areas become polluted with trash, tourism suffers. Any city or town that depends on tourism for its economy faces dim prospects as its attractions are overrun with trash. In 2020, Honduras faced this problem when a “trash tsunami” washed up on its beaches.
Consisting mostly of plastic waste, this wave of trash endangered wildlife and the local economy. Unfortunately, the problem is ongoing as the trash is from neighboring Guatemala, a country with poor infrastructure.
3. Food quality and overall health
Trash pollution affects the quality of the food we eat and, consequently, our health. Plastics are the big culprit here. Traces of plastic have been found in everything from tap water to salt, from honey to fish. In fact, on average, one in four fish contains plastic.
This contamination has serious repercussions. While more studies need to be done, potential adverse health effects include inflammation, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Some plastics contain toxic materials like phthalates and polyvinylchloride, which can cause cancer, congenital disabilities, and endocrine system disruption.
Let’s face it. This is the only earth we have. We all want to live happy, healthy lives, and if we have children, we want them to have the same.
But here’s the exciting news.
You can do something tangible about it!
There are many practices a restaurant or catering business can implement to increase eco-friendliness. For more information on these, check out our blog 7 Cost-Effective Ways To Make Your Restaurant More Eco-Friendly.
In the meantime, let's get started with some actionable ideas right here!
3 Actions to Take To Make Your Restaurant More Eco-Friendly
Let’s start off with a few larger products you can invest in to make your business more eco-friendly. These are especially important to keep in mind if you’re starting a new business, opening a new location, or need new equipment.
Invest in Energy-Efficient Equipment
Does your business have high electricity costs? If so, you’re not alone. This is because much of the equipment in a commercial kitchen runs on electricity.
This is where energy-efficient equipment comes in.
Energy-efficient equipment is better for the environment and it saves on utility costs. For example, Energy Star certified equipment can save restaurants and caterers between 15-30% in energy costs.
Here are a few products to start off with in the kitchen:
- Cooktops and ovens
- The cooler and freezer
The kitchen is the obvious place to start, but there are other areas well.
- Toilets: Consider installing low-flow toilets to save water. Low-flow toilets save between 1.9 to 7 gallons of water per flush.
- Automatic faucets: Not only do automatic faucets cut the spread of germs, but they also save up to 70% on water usage.
Install High-Quality Windows
Have you ever sat next to a window on a cold day and felt a slight breeze? If you have, you know how uncomfortable this is! If this happens, you can be sure it's time to change your windows.
However, even before it gets this bad, poor-quality windows can cause significant energy waste when heating or cooling.
Installing new, high-quality windows can save up to 52% of your energy bill. So what exactly is a high-quality window?
Let’s break it down.
There are five things to look for in a good window:
Glazing: A quality window will have double or triple glazing with an air gap of 12 to 20 millimeters between panes.
Latches: Window latches or locking points are often areas where cold air gets through. A good window will have multiple, well-sealed locking points.
Frame: Ensure that the window frame is made from material that doesn’t transmit temperature well. Good examples include vinyl and wood.
Seals: A quality window will have good seals. Although there are many high-quality sealants, silicone ones are arguably the best.
Installation: A high-quality window won’t do much good without expert installation. Make sure to hire a contractor with experience and excellent reviews.
Switch to Energy-Efficient Lighting
Lighting is an integral part of a restaurant experience and takes significant energy. Thankfully, cutting lighting costs is actually pretty easy.
Here are a few tips.
1. Switch to LED lighting.
This is first on the list because it's arguably the most important. While LED bulbs do cost more upfront when compared to traditional iridescent bulbs, they use 90% less energy.* The savings in utility costs and the diminished environmental impact make LED bulbs an easy choice!
2. Install motion sensor lights.
Consider installing occupancy sensor switches if you don’t want to replace your current lighting in storage rooms, closets, or restrooms. These provide a simple way to ensure the lights aren’t on when the space is empty.
3. Use bi-level switches.
Bi-level switches allow you to turn off the lights in only part of the room. This is a great way to cut back on energy waste in dining rooms where natural light is only sufficient for part of the room.
4. Swap out fridge lights.
A small but effective way to cut energy waste is to install a compact fluorescent light in your fridge. This reduces light heat by as much as 75%!
5. Update your signage.
Older lighted signs tend to use a lot more energy than new LED ones. According to the Small Business Administration, this can reduce the energy used for signage by 80%.
*When using Energy Star certified bulbs.
9 Eco-Friendly Products That You Can Use in Your Restaurant Right Now
Now that we’ve introduced some of the larger, eco-friendly products you can invest in, let's take a look at some small yet vital products.
Big changes are important, but we should never underestimate the power of small changes. After all, the saying “it’s the little things that matter” hasn’t stuck around so long for no reason!
Little products can make a big impact.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of these.
Eco-Friendly Cleaning Supplies
Cleaning supplies can be a significant source of toxins and waste. They are also a fantastic opportunity to invest in recycled materials and green cleaners. Thankfully, there are a lot of options out there!
Here are a few things to look for in eco-friendly cleaning supplies:
- Made from recycled materials
- Bulk packaging
- Recycled packaging
- Natural fragrances
- The label includes all active and inactive ingredients.
Not all green cleaners are created equal, so be sure to read reviews!
Made from a sturdy, renewable material, bamboo utensils are an excellent way to be kind to the environment while impressing your guests. Bamboo is a sustainable material for at least three reasons:
- It is hearty and abundant. In fact, it's one of the fastest-growing plants on earth!
- It requires relatively small amounts of energy to grow.
- It can be used to create durable products.
Bamboo utensils are an excellent alternative to prepackaged plastic flatware sets. Fully biodegradable, they allow you to provide a necessary service to your customers completely guilt-free! As an added bonus, they look a lot better too!
Palm Leaf Plates
Unlike the flowing palm leaves that may immediately come to mind, palm leaf plates are sturdy and functional.
They are also simple and elegant, making them a classy choice for any restaurant, catering business, or hotel chef.
Palm leaf plates are reusable when used to serve dry food like sandwiches or crackers. While they also work well for juicy foods, they can’t be reused in such cases. Constructed from fallen palm leaves and water, these plates are fully compostable and make cleanup simple.
Other eco-friendly plate options are made from bamboo and sugarcane.
What do you think of when you hear “eco-friendly straws?” Maybe a cheap paper straw that gets soggy before you’re half done with your sweet tea?
Thankfully, that isn’t the only eco-friendly straw option. Enter the agave staw!
Made from the agave byproducts left behind in tequila manufacturing, the agave straw is 200 times more degradable than plastic. Sturdy and reusable, these straws give your guests a similar experience to a plastic straw - but without the negative effects on the environment. To top it off, agave straws are also recyclable!
To learn more about agave straws and how they compare to other eco-friendly straw options, check out our blog, How Agave Straws Can Help Us Defeat The Problem Of Plastic.
Bamboo Coffee Stirrers
Coffee stirrers are another small item essential to any establishment that serves coffee, but they are often made from plastic. Bamboo coffee stirrers are just the ticket!
These stirrers can be simple and functional in design or an opportunity to add some elegance or seasonal cheer.
Bamboo skewers are a lovely way to add some pizazz to a dish. Beautiful, sustainable, and customizable, these garnishes only add to the visual appeal of your food.
From study skewers used to label meats to long, square ones used for kabobs to delicate cocktail skewers, there are enough sizes and styles to meet your needs. Additionally, these skewers can be custom branded, so you can elevate your brand and get your logo in front of your customers.
Bamboo toothpicks serve many purposes beyond removing food from teeth. Made from eco-friendly material, these picks can be used for cocktails and food garnishes, samples, hors d'oeuvres, and much more!
With hundreds of options to choose from, Pick on Us offers options to fit your restaurant’s style and needs!
Sugarcane To-go Containers
Most restaurants offer food to-go. While they might cut down on food waste by allowing people to take their leftovers home, plastic to-go containers only contribute to the worldwide plastic crisis. Thankfully, there are great eco-friendly to-go alternatives!
Sugarcane to-go boxes are made from the pulp that’s left over after the juice is extracted from sugarcane. The pulp (called bagasse) can be molded into many shapes and products. Easy to produce, sugarcane to-go containers are biodegradable and commercially compostable.
Here are a few additional benefits of sugarcane to-go containers:
- Work great for packaging both hot and cold foods
Reusable, Recycled, or Biodegradable Bags
Last (but definitely not least) on our list of eco-friendly products is eco-friendly bags.
Most of us have probably seen pictures of plastic bags floating in oceans and rivers, littering sidewalks and parks, and washing up on beaches. Plastic bags are difficult and expensive to recycle.
This means most single-use plastic bags end up in landfills. They aren’t biodegradable and instead break down into toxic particles that contaminate soil and the food chain. This causes significant harm to humans and the environment, as we discussed at the beginning of this post.
Eco-friendly bags come in at least three forms.
A classic form is a reusable bag. These bags cut down significantly on waste pollution. In the best-case scenario, these reusable bags should be made from natural, eco-friendly fabrics.
Check with your supplier to see if they offer recycled bags. Encourage customers to recycle those bags when they are finished using them.
Some supply companies are now producing biodegradable plastic bags. Other options include biodegradable paper bags.
The health of our planet can be an overwhelming problem and, depending on where we live, one that feels far away. However, it is one that inevitably affects all of us.
Thankfully, there are eco-friendly products available that allow you to continue providing services and conveniences to your guests while also being kind to the environment.
For more information on Pick On Us’s sustainability initiatives, check out our Sustainability page.
If you have any questions or would like to place an order of eco-friendly products, don’t hesitate to contact us!