The COVID-19 pandemic of last year hit virtually every industry hard and caused significant 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. Many small restaurants were even forced to close their doors with no indoor dining or minimal options due to lockdown procedures.
Those who were able to maintain operations saw a massive surge in popularity for online ordering and takeout options. COVID or not, people still need food, after all.
Many professionals live busy work-centred 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.
According to a survey by Asia Pulp & Paper, almost two-thirds of diners want the restaurant industry to feature sustainable packaging and compostable take-out containers.
So customers are hungry for more than just delicious food.
Many diners say that they would be willing to pay more for restaurants that use sustainable packaging, which can help offset the cost of switching to a different type of container.
Not all eco-friendly carryout containers are the same. There are a couple of different kinds of containers, and we'll look at the differences between them.
One of the easiest ways to 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 complex, 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 easily recycled. Aluminum containers are also an excellent recyclable option, and aluminum cans could replace plastic cups for drinks. Avoid options like polystyrene that are hard to recycle locally. Shipping these materials increases your costs, and customers doubt recycling them. When you 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.
When it comes to compostable products, they can be a bit more complex than recyclable products to dispose of. Still, they have significant 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, 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), 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 fit a compost facility or even recycling. Paper may be safe for sandwiches 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.
Moulded 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 that you can save costs in your supply chain.
You may have seen some local restaurants doing away with disposable items that go in the trash bin altogether and replacing them with things 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 to a salad bar or a Mexican restaurant that serves burrito bowls. You can even increase consumer demand for these products 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 ensure everyone is safe.
Just because a product is plastic doesn't automatically mean it's terrible 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 use them.
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 made from potentially helpful food. The farm waste is fused using mycelium (mushroom roots), and it's entirely safe to use and even biodegrades faster than other options.
Eco-friendly practices don't stop just at packaging. Your cutlery can be a big source of plastic waste as well.
Reducing single-use cutlery isn't just environmentally friendly. It's also a great way to boost the profit margins for restaurants.
You may be able to save thousands of dollars annually by reducing the amount you spend on cutlery. Instead of including plastic utensils with your take-out orders, default to having them only on request, using a module on your website ad through third-party delivery sites for customers to indicate they need plasticware.
Choosing compostable food containers includes your napkins, straws, and cutlery, too. Bamboo and sugarcane are sustainable materials, aren't endangered, and can easily be composted in your customer's backyard. Before you decide on compostable containers, make sure that you do your research for your ghost kitchen and only purchase items that customers can compost themselves, unless you know that the commercial composting facility in your area is used often by residents.
Other alternatives include shifting to aluminum pans, which can easily be rinsed out and recycled. Another option is to have reusable totes for people to carry out meals or have washable containers that customers return to the restaurant when they're done.
Thinking about everything that goes into just a single kitchen shift can fill your mind with images of hundreds of ingredients and orders, flying around the kitchen like a chaotic orchestra that somehow stays on beat. Now, take each of those items and think about the waste that comes with it.
Every ingredient purchased has packaging, wrapping and sometimes multiple layers depending on how the distributorships. Stack that on top of takeout containers such as bags and boxes, plastic cutlery, napkins and sauces and before long, you'll have a small landfill worth of items that can't be reused or recycled. No matter what style of kitchen you run, it's important to regularly audit your practices and make sure everything aligns with your sustainability goals.
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