How to inch toward sustainability in the food industry

Sustainability is easier for some fields over others. The food industry itself is particularly prone to waste, with as much as 40% of all food grown wasted—not to mention the huge amounts of single use products and plastic packaging.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit trickier for restaurants to provide the experience that customers expect while also cutting waste, especially in light of the pandemic. With that in mind, it may seem like sustainability is a distant dream, but there are actually ways restaurants can move towards sustainability while also meeting customer expectations.

Don’t expect to throw away your trash bins

Many people seem to believe that becoming more sustainable is an all or nothing situation. If you can’t fit all of your trash for the year into a single mason jar, why bother? The truth is, every journey has a first step. It’s best to choose a small thing and focus on that, rather than struggle to do it all.

Even one small change benefits the environment, and if everyone makes those small changes, together it makes a big difference.

Forgiving yourself for not being able to completely erase your carbon footprint while still running a business is an important step.

Compost your food waste

An easy change to make that doesn’t ask your customers to do anything is to compost your leftover food waste. Giant food digesters can turn scraps into compost in just one day, and even if you personally can’t compost them on site there are services out there glad to take your food waste.

By composting instead of throwing them away, a great deal of a restaurant’s carbon footprint can be neutralized. If composting is done on site, it can also save money over time through reducing how often the trash needs serviced.


Where you get your food can be almost as important as the waste itself. If you can source some of your ingredients directly from a farm, it gives you the opportunity to cut out some of the packaging. When this isn’t possible, choosing local companies, seasonal ingredients, or organic produce can all be a step in the right direction.

It’s not always easy to source quality ingredients, but if you can make even a small change towards making your ingredients more sustainable, it can make a big difference over time.

Ask if customers want disposable items

Many times condiments, bags, napkins, forks and knives are included with a take-out order, no questions asked. A lot of these items get thrown away unused, because the customer did not want or need them.

Instead of simply filling the bottom of the bag with soy sauce, ketchup, forks and knives, you can make these items optional. Seamless, a food delivery company, was able to remove over a million single use plastic utensils from distribution with a single checkbox on their website. The checkbox allowed customers to indicate if they didn’t want these items.

Using something similar is a great way to both save money on your own expenses, and cut down on waste as well.

Look at different packaging options

Right now, the ongoing pandemic makes it difficult to avoid single use items entirely. There are unique packaging options out there that can make a difference. Take away packages can be made out of bamboo, cassava starch, and other biodegradable solutions.

Reusable takeout containers have also started making an appearance, with the assistance of companies that cater to this need. Reusable takeout services allow customers to “Check out” a container the same way they might check out a library book.

Instead of throwing the carton away, it can be dropped off at a vending machine, returned to the restaurant, or picked up by the take-out container company.

While how the containers are collected differ depending on the company servicing the take-out boxes, it can be a great way to still offer take-out sustainably.

Look at other savings

Restaurants also use vast amounts of water and energy as part of the service. Even if you can’t swap over to clean energy, by conserving what you have it can make a big difference.

Conserving water can be as easy as talking to your staff. Let them know that conserving water is important, and advise them not to let taps of water run without reason. If the restaurant has a garden, using gray water to keep it moist is a better option than dumping it out unused.

Likewise, energy can be saved by turning lights off when they are not in use, and other simple habits. Simply by trying, a great deal of waste can be eliminated.

The pandemic has seen big changes for the restaurant industry, and take-out is now a necessary part of it. By making a few changes where ever possible however, you can cut down a lot of your carbon footprint.

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