The COVID-19 pandemic of last year hit virtually every industry hard and caused big changes, from remote work to limiting the number of people who could gather in one place. Restaurateurs, in particular, felt the consequences of the pandemic. With no indoor dining, or extremely limited options due to lockdown procedures, many small restaurants were even forced to close their doors. Those who were able to maintain operations saw a huge surge in popularity for both online ordering and takeout options. COVID or not, people still need food, after all. Many professionals live busy work-centered lives and don't even know when they could fit in time for grocery shopping, so there's always high demand in the restaurant industry.
If there's any silver lining to come out of all this for restaurant owners, it's that so many have had their eyes opened to the importance of sustainability. Sustainable operations often refer to practices that seek to fill current needs for new products while lessening the environmental impact. It isn't just about the environment, though. Sustainability also means implementing cost-effective solutions, supporting your local community, and even ensuring social equity at your restaurant. Many owners are finding that these practices are the right thing for them, and a big part of sustainability is using environmentally friendly packaging. Roughly 23% of all waste that makes it to landfills consists of plastics, paper, and paperboard—products frequently used in food packaging. Another 21% is food waste, which could be reduced with a waste assessment, menu changes, and better packaging. Here are five great sustainable packaging for takeout options.
1. Recyclable Products
One of the easiest ways you can promote sustainability in your restaurant, and even advertise yourself as a "green" business to draw in environmentally conscious customers, is to use recyclable containers and other products. Many consumers already believe that recycling is difficult, and using styrofoam or plastic takeout containers doesn't make things any easier for your customers. Of course, containers often come stuffed with single-use plastics, like utensils, as well as possible paper waste in the form of napkins that get thrown in the trash.
If you still want to use plastic in your restaurant, it's a good idea to look out for safe, recyclable materials like polypropylene. This material is durable, safe for food contact, and can be easily recycled. Aluminum containers are also a good recyclable option, and aluminum cans could at least replace plastic cups for drinks. Avoid options like polystyrene that are hard to recycle locally. Shipping these materials off increases your costs, and customers are highly unlikely to recycle them. When you do use recyclable plastic containers, be sure to mark them clearly with a recycling sticker and number so that your customers are more likely to recycle them properly.
2. Compostable Items
When it comes to compostable products, they can be a bit more complex than recyclable products to dispose of, but they have great environmental benefits and are even more cost-effective than plastic bags and other, less friendly options. Many consumers believe that if a container is compostable, then they just need to throw it away with the rest of the trash. While it's true that compostable take out containers are made from organic materials and will break down similarly to food waste, compostable products should ideally be sent to a commercial compost facility, which will provide the best environment for the materials to break down quickly.
A great example of compostable packaging is polylactic acid (PLA), which is a sort of plastic made from corn. In addition to PLA, paper bags and packaging are also compostable, so long as you're careful with them. Paper should be used for dry goods only, since if it becomes soaked with grease, it will no longer be fit for a compost facility or even recycling. Paper may be safe for sandwiches as well, if they aren't loaded with sauce. As with recyclable products, you'll want to mark your compostable containers, so they don't just end up in the bin.
Molded pulp packaging is a great cost-effective option, since it has a biodegradable base like bamboo or sugarcane. The thin design of these containers also means that they can hold more food during shipping, so you can save costs in your supply chain.
3. Reusable Containers
You may have seen some local restaurants doing away with disposable items that go in the trash bin altogether and replacing them with items you can reuse. Reusable bags have been a big hit in grocery stores, and reusable takeout packaging is becoming popular and leading to more consumer demand. A great example could be a reusable plastic bowl that customers bring with them to a salad bar or Mexican restaurant that serves burrito bowls. You can even increase consumer demand for these products further by offering incentives, like extra toppings, for patrons who take advantage of reusable containers.
Of course, contamination is likely to be the biggest concern with these packaging options, especially in the era of COVID. You'll want to enforce strict sanitation guidelines to make sure everyone is safe.
Just because a product is plastic doesn't automatically mean it's bad for the environment. If you're concerned about the challenges of recycling for your customers, you can rely on bio-plastics made from renewable resources like fats and oils, sawdust, or even food waste. You can make more than containers and lids out of biodegradable plastics as well. You can use these to replace traditional plastic cutlery for takeout orders. To take things a step further, you could even make these items an opt-in choice, so they're only given to customers who will actually use them.
5. Mushroom Packaging
Believe it or not, if you're looking for more sustainable packaging for take out options, you can even create packaging from mushrooms and agricultural waste. Such waste is unsafe for human consumption, so mushroom packaging avoids the potential controversies of other organic items that are made from potentially useful food. The agricultural waste is fused together using mycelium (mushroom roots), and it's entirely safe to use and even biodegrades at a faster rate than other options.
No matter what kind of restaurant you run, you have plenty of options to improve your sustainability, both in restaurant and for online orders. Doing so is great for the environment and your community, it can save you money, and it will make you more popular with patrons who shop for sustainable options.