Environmental Stewardship: 5 Ways Restaurants Can Improve Recycling Practices

Recycling is not a trend or buzzword being tossed around, it’s a growing expectation for restaurants and their customers to assess their environmental impact and help reduce waste. In today’s conscientious environment customers will go out of their way to support companies that recycle. Aligning with their values improves the business relationship and creates brand loyalty for customers. In fact, 60% of consumers say they would specifically give their business to restaurants that recycle, and 51% would even pay more to visit those establishments. So step up your recycling game with these five tips to show your customers that sustainability is a top priority.

Limit Packaging—Restaurants receive countless packages of foods and other goods and the amount of packaging waste for these items can really add up. Stop waste before it starts by asking suppliers to use minimal amounts of packaging for their products and request suppliers to reuse or recycle pallets and shipping boxes. Buying in bulk also reduces packing waste by limiting the frequency of shipping and packaging. 

Restaurant managers can also use inventory management software to improve purchasing decisions. Reducing food waste cuts down on your COGS as well as excess packaging and shipping waste. When your purchasing is well aligned with your sales and inventory, you can see significant savings.

Recycle Paper Products—Supporting recycling is two-fold. It involves incorporating the practice into waste management and utilizing recycled materials products. When it comes to supporting paper recycling, restaurants are excelling. Owners say they recycle on average 85% of the paper and cardboard they use, and about 72% of establishments are using recycled materials products, mostly from paper. These figures are encouraging, but there is some discrepancy among different regions of the country based on the availability of programs and resources. If there are challenges preventing you from maximizing your paper recycling, a little innovation may be just the thing. Take Starbucks, for example. It was once assumed that recycling their paper cups couldn’t be done because of the cup’s inner plastic lining. But the company challenged this assumption and found a facility that could handle their product. They have now recycled millions of their cups through the specialized facility in Wisconsin.

Eliminate Plastic Straws—Unlike plastic bottles, plastic straws cannot be recycled by most facilities because the small and flexible items can get stuck in the machinery. As a result, the straws end up in our landfills or worse, our waterways, and can choke marine life or lead to microplastics in our food system. There’s a growing national movement to remove plastic straws at restaurants. These establishments may choose to replace them with other materials or discontinue offering straws entirely.  Paper straws are common replacements, and some restaurants are going even further by offering customers biodegradable straws. On the other hand, consider providing reusable and recyclable glass and metal straws.

Repurpose Used Carpet—Carpet may not be the first thing people think of when it comes to recycling, but consider this: It’s estimated that 5 billion pounds of carpeting go into landfills every year. That’s one major reason why restaurants are committed to limiting the amount of carpet that’s thrown away. Darden Restaurants is significantly reducing their contribution. In a single month last year, they recycled 60,000 pounds of carpet tiles removed from their restaurants. In addition, the company now buys only carpet tiles so that if a specific area of the carpet gets worn out, the company only needs to replace that particular square.

Offer Recyclable Take-Out Boxes— Styrofoam is a common material used for “doggie” bags. Although technically Styrofoam is recyclable—it is a plastic—many recycling facilities are not equipped to accept it, and most Styrofoam ends up in landfills. Restaurants may think paper boxes are a better option, but if they have a plastic lining on the inside, these will likely also end up in the landfill. If you do pick paper, try to make sure they are biodegradable. Aluminum can also be a good option because it is recyclable. However, production of the metal has a high carbon footprint, which does somewhat offset the positive contribution. A creative solution could be to offer a discount to customers who bring a reusable, recyclable container for their own takeaway. This is a great sustainable option, but make sure to clear this with local food safety laws first.

Innovations in business practices and technologies are continuously advancing our recycling options. Restaurant owners and managers are often at the forefront of these practices. These establishments have a longstanding relationship with waste management, and it is clear that customers are supportive of increasing recycling efforts.  Customers even report they would participate in the recycling process themselves, sorting through items and placing them in the proper bins at fast dining locations. That kind of enthusiasm should move restaurants to be the environmental stewards their clientele want them to be.

Restaurant Magic Software has been providing advanced software solutions to the restaurant and hospitality industry for over 20 years. The robust Data Central Management Suite, the flagship product, is a powerful and flexible application that takes advantage of the latest technology trends to offer premier processing and analytics. With advanced forecasting, predictive scheduling and mobile technologies, Data Central has something for every problem. To learn more about Restaurant Magic Software and its products, call us at 1(800) 933-4711 or visit the website at RestaurantMagic.com.