The restaurant industry focuses on making memorable experiences for customers. Unfortunately, it inevitably creates a negative impact on the environment. From the emissions released during livestock production, to the water used in the food supply chain, to the food waste generated along the way, restaurants create a substantial environmental footprint.
With an overwhelming number of restaurants closing inside dining during the pandemic, establishments were and still are, using takeout and delivery to sell their meals, introduce culinary trends, and accommodate their customers. With this, the use of plastics in packaging to single-use products is increasing not decreasing. This growing amount of waste produced in our country is greatly damaging our oceans and wildlife. Meat production, transportation, and waste from food ingredients to plastics, all create a negative impact on our environment. Unfortunately, one-third of the world’s food gets wasted. This alone amounts to 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Also, one-fifth of all of the water used in the U.S. is used to produce food that ends up going to waste.
Problems and Solutions, Livestock
Livestock agriculture produces approximately 15% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Lamb and beef create the greatest number of emissions due to the amount of land and water it takes to produce them. Poultry is the most environmentally friendly. One solution to minimize this is the farm-to-table movement. The movement focuses on sourcing ingredients that are from a specific, local farm, and in-season. It emphasizes using every part of the food product thus, helping to lower its environmental impact. It helps the local businesses and economy. Farm-to-table itself started in Berkeley, California at Chez Panisse. The movement has gone from a unique concept to a mainstream culinary trend in the United States.
Using the “Imperfect Food
Throwing away “imperfect” foods in manufacturing, restaurant preparation processes, and over-ordering supplies greatly contributes to the waste problem. Inventory management is crucial in forecasting product purchasing to prevent over-ordering resulting in food spoilage and waste. Chefs use more “imperfect” foods in production. There is no need to discard them. Bartenders are using imperfect and extra foods for creative garnishes on their beverages. This cuts back on waste and adds an exciting culinary trend to the drink.
Many consumers and restaurants throw out food as soon as it reaches the expiration date on the label. There are two vital facts to know about date labels on foods in the US, they’re not standardized, and they have almost nothing to do with food safety, (except infant formula). Labels were originally made to assist supermarkets in rotating stock. They were not designed for consumers. Shoppers wanting the freshest, longest-lasting foods, began to decipher the dates on labels and purchase/discard products accordingly. Manufacturers and distributors saw this as a marketing boon, a way to attract consumers and signify that your food was fresh and flavorful.
Restaurants face many challenges in managing energy, but there are many opportunities available for help. Restaurants use five times more energy in a comparable amount of space as other businesses. Quick service restaurants with high volume, can use up to 10% more energy per square foot. This is mostly because of the amount of refrigeration and lighting used. Replacing appliances with energy and water-efficient ones saves money and reduces the restaurants’ environmental footprint. Just replacing incandescent light bulbs with LED ones will make a big difference. Be sure all restaurant equipment is working correctly and well-calibrated.
Helping restaurants go green is not an easy process and training can be new or different. Set up recycling bins to separate paper and plastic in all stations of the restaurant. Use reusable instead of disposable containers. The EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in everyday trash. This accounts for 24% of the amount landfilled and 22% of the amount combusted with energy recovery.
States such as Vermont and California, require restaurants to compost food waste. Plastic bags and straw bans are in many states and Styrofoam is also on its ‘way out. Styrofoam and plastics emerge from petroleum, which causes developmental, hematological, renal, and immunological disorders in humans and animals. Styrofoam’s toxins leach into foods and beverages, especially when they heat up. Shop eco-friendly alternatives to plastic and Styrofoam. Each state has programs available to assist in bettering the environment.
Restaurants haven’t had the best reputation for being environmentally friendly. They use a tremendous amount of energy, water, and produce incredible mounds of waste. However, more environmentally conscious restauranteurs and employees are entering the restaurant industry daily. This new generation of workers grew up with recycling bins at school and at home. They know the dangers of pollution and the continuing threat of climate change—and many of them are prepared to do something about it.
After graduating from Framingham State College with a B.S. in Home Economics, Susanne worked in Product Development for Ground Round Restaurants, then restaurant consulting in the Boston area. Susanne worked on public relations, new concepts, and promotional menu development for Darden restaurants prior to joining the team. Susanne’s current focus is on print media analysis and overseeing the editorial staff for online communications.