If you are a restaurant owner or manager, here is a simple way to impress customers and possibly attract new ones: Switch your current take-out containers to eco-friendly compostable containers.
Why compostable? Here is the reality on all these green-washing claims of biodegradable, recyclable and renewable products:
Plastic – The coded numbers on plastic containers, which first appeared in 1988, are designed to help consumers as well as disposal companies separate recyclables from garbage. The reality is that plastics designated 1 – 4 are more recyclable, unlike 5 – 7 which are not even accepted by a number of municipalities. Of course, one can only imagine how difficult it is to sort, collect, clean and reprocess each different type of plastic. In addition, if there is food contamination on the plastic, it’s more common to dispose in the landfill.
Paper or Cardboard – Containers made out of paper or cardboard could be recycled, but only if they are disposed of in their pristine original appearance. Once contaminated by sauce or grease from food, they are garbage. Waste companies estimate soiled materials damage their recycling machinery to the tune of $700 million every year.
Styrofoam/Polystyrene – This material is by far the biggest waste, i.e., foam containers fill landfills and are rarely recycled. Americans threw away more than 2.5 billion Styrofoam cups last year! 2.5 BILLION. Besides this mountain of waste, Styrofoam is “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen by the U.S. government. Its production causes air pollution and results in substantial waste.
By definition, compostable products completely break down in a safe, timely manner into usable compost, i.e., soil-conditioning material or mulch. Compostable products are made out of natural products, such as palm fiber, bagasse (sugarcane), and wheat stocks.
In addition, with the growing popularity of compostable products, they now come in all shapes and sizes to match the diversity of restaurant cuisine. There are bowls, plates, hinged containers for hoagies and burgers, and much more. In addition, they are available with one or three compartments so the food travels without mixing.
Certain foodservice packaging companies have taken the lead. One example is Huhtamaki, that believes that sustainability means environmental protection, social equity, and economic prosperity. Huhtamaki packaging reduces resource usage and product waste, it lowers health risks, and it improves economic efficiency.
The green movement is mainstream and restaurateurs can give it an extra push by using compostable products. Some local governments have banned foam and plastic bags in various cities around the U.S., but businesses can take the lead by providing compostable containers. Every restaurant’s goal should be to have more efficient packaging that improves the lifecycle performance of packaged food.
Yes, it’s a small attempt at changing the world, but every journey starts with one small step.