April 19

Earth Day 2019: Sustainable Practices for Restaurants


This Earth Day we’re celebrating the ways that U.S. restaurants are taking action to become more environmentally conscious.

These days everyone is talkin’ trash… no seriously, with China no longer buying recycled waste from around the world, our trash is piling up as we figure out the best way to deal with the growing heaps of plastic. This Earth Day we want to celebrate the steps restaurants have taken (or can begin to take *nudge nudge* ) to lessen their impact on our environment.

Ditching plastic to-go containers
While recycling plastic might seem easy, it’s actually difficult and time consuming to properly process. There are thousands of varieties of plastics that have to be sorted in a specific way to be recycled, and a lot of the time, they end up in a landfill or even the ocean.

Restaurants all over the U.S. have started to ditch plastic to-go containers, cups and lids in favor of more sustainable products. There are a lot of options available from paper to bamboo to other plant-based products. Many of these alternatives are biodegradable and compostable, making them easier on the environment. Here’s a quick comparison from Webstaurantstore.com of what it could cost to ditch plastic containers: A case of 46 hinged 8×8 Plastic containers is $23.99 and a case of 200 hinged 8×8 biodegradable sugarcane/bagasse to-go containers is $38.99. While in the past, going green was more of a financial burden, now prices seem to be comparable and sometimes even more affordable than plastic ware.

Ditching single-use plastic straws
500 million single-use plastic straws are used daily in the U.S. This means 175 billion straws are thrown away every year. According to The Last Straw, the daily U.S. consumption of plastic straws is enough to wrap around the Earth 2.5 times. It’s no wonder many cities are ditching plastic straws or have already banned them.

Restaurants, bars and cafes across the U.S. have made an effort to only offer straws when customers ask for them, or provide straws made of alternative materials (paper, bamboo). Some have even stopped offering straws all together and instead make metal straws available for purchase. There are a few sustainable options when choosing to ditch single-use plastic straws, but just for comparison here are the prices listed on webstaurantstore.com of plastic versus paper straws bought in bulk: For 4,800 unwrapped compostable paper straws you pay $73.99 and for a pack of 5,000 unwrapped plastic straws you will pay $12.31.

Buying locally does great things for our environment and is a great way for restaurants to continue to support sustainable practices.

Repurposing waste
It’s no secret that restaurants create food waste. But, there is a great way to repurpose that waste into the creation of rich and fertile soil that keeps the cycle of food moving — Composting! And many restaurants are already implementing this practice.

Perhaps your city already has a composting system set up, in which case you can contact your current waste management service to see if they offer a composting program. If they don’t, you can research and find an independent composting facility near you. There might be a learning curve when educating your staff on what is compostable, but over time it will get easier. One of the restaurants I worked at had a small bin for employees to dump food scraps into, and above this station was a document with visuals on what could be composted and what could not — it made the composting process a lot easier.

Buying locally
The farm to table restaurant movement is continuing to grow as more consumers are beginning to care about what they’re putting in their bodies, where their food is being sourced and how their food choices impact the environment. Many restaurants are participating in this movement by purchasing ingredients from local farms, local butchers and local markets.

Buying locally does great things for our environment and is a great way for restaurants to continue to support sustainable practices. When you purchase locally, there is less travel time between the food and your kitchen, contributing to less air pollution. Buying from local farms also helps support local ecosystems. While purchasing everything from one big national vendor might seem easier, taking the time to support your local economy can be a great way to implement sustainability.

Encouraging alternative transportation
Alternative transportation — ie, walking, bussing, biking and carpooling — is a great way to reduce CO2 emissions, teach your employees to care about the environment and… create more parking space near your restaurant. While it’s unrealistic to demand your employees use alternative transportation, there are ways you can encourage them to think about how they are commuting every day. I worked at a restaurant that incentivized taking alternative transportation. For every day that you biked, walked, bussed or carpooled to work you were able to enter your name in a raffle drawing for a prize.

This Earth Day our hats are off to all the restaurants that are making sustainable changes with our planet in mind! If you haven’t moved toward sustainable restaurant practices and are thinking about it, keep in mind that according to Neilsen insights, 68% of consumers are willing to pay more for a product they consider fresh, natural and organic. Consumers care about how their purchases impact our planet and might just pick one restaurant over another based on the restaurant’s values.

About the author


Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.


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