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Going Green is Not B&W

By Laura Ann Craven, Imperial Dade

Although foodservice packaging and related supplies make up approximately 3% of a restaurant’s expenses, these items have consumed a disproportionate percentage of mindshare lately.

Bans on certain types of products such as expanded polystyrene (foam) containers, plastic bags, and most recently plastic straws, have been causing headaches. Here are ten tips to help make sense of the changing landscape of packaging materials, environmental claims, and disposal pathways.

  1. The term biodegradable is often used to market products but can be misleading. For example, an aluminum can is biodegradable…in 200 years. On the other hand, a banana, when buried in a sanitary landfill, will never biodegrade.
  2. Compostable is another term that needs clarification. Products that are BPI Certified compostable must be processed in a commercial composting facility in order to be converted into the nutrient-rich compost material that can be reused in agricultural applications. If a compostable product ends up in a landfill, it remains intact.
  3. All plastics are recyclable however not are all are economically feasible. Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) is the most commonly recycled plastic in both residential and commercial recycling programs. This type of plastic is used to make many types of clear plastic packaging and bottles and can be recycled multiple times.
  4. Cardboard and paper are recyclable but must be free of contaminants such as food, grease, and other debris.
  5. Many alternative raw materials can be used to make foodservice packaging including bio-based and rapidly renewable materials that may also be compostable when certified and appropriately processed.
    a. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet, growing as much as 24” in a day. The material is used to make compostable plates, cutlery, and straws.
    b. Sugarcane Pulp, also called Bagasse, is a byproduct of the harvesting process. It is used to make compostable plates, bowls, and other containers.
    c. Wheat straw is another rapidly renewable material that can be used similarly to sugarcane pulp, also compostable.
    d. Cornstarch, when converted into polylactic acid (PLA), is made into compostable cups, lids, and straws. Although the material looks like plastic, is not suitable for hot applications.
    e. Palm sheaths naturally dry and fall from trees. They are collected and converted into compostable plates, bowls, and containers.
  6. The disposal process may be the most challenging part of the equation. An operator can use recyclable and compostable packaging and supplies, but the consumer must then dispose of the item into the correct collection bin. Cross-contamination of recyclables or compostables will result in the load ending up in the landfill.
  7. For on-premises disposal, using prominent signage including pictograms can help educate staff and customers. Video monitors are another option and may be more attention-grabbing than static signs.
  8. Custom-print packaging can convey your sustainability messaging and include instructions for proper disposal, on-site or off.
  9. Although there are many sustainable alternatives, it is still important to ensure that the packaging performs correctly and increases customer satisfaction. Test all options for temperature and humidity control, strength, grease-resistance, and presentation.
  10. Going green is not black and white. Work with an experienced supplier partner to select the most appropriate packaging and supplies for your unique situation.

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