We’ve all heard the mantra – Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! This has long been the cornerstone of promoting consumer sustainability. Yet committing to the health of our planet will require businesses – including restaurants – to create a truly closed-loop system. This is a system based on Reduce! and Reuse! The reusable future is here, and taking the first step is easier than you think.
By definition, a closed-loop system is one where packaging is reused indefinitely, moving through a supply chain loop and never reaching an end point – which in most cases is landfill. Packaging materials make their way back to the restaurant to be used in the same cycle again, and again, and again…
While sustainability may be trending, the concept of a closed-loop system is ancient. Historically this is the system on which the world of commerce was built – reusing scarce materials as many times as possible. The classic closed-loop example is the milkman, who delivered fresh, local milk in glass containers throughout the neighborhood. Each day, customers would place their empty bottles outside only to have them replaced by a new fresh set — and in the process the bottles were never wasted. However, beginning in the 1960s, advancements in refrigeration and packaging led to our modern open-loop industrial system that focuses on convenience and mass production. While these new materials (often plastic) are technically recyclable, they ultimately create waste through the continuous production and discarding of materials. When coupled with the global shortage of recycling capacity, most of these materials are diverted to landfills, open pits, or our oceans. As awareness of this problem builds in the public conscience, we’re starting to see a shift back to closed-loop systems that preserve natural resources, decrease waste, and create more ethical businesses.
Within food and beverage businesses, operators around the world are looking for ways to reduce harm while running a sound business that serves both their guests and our planet. But reducing the 700 billion takeout containers we use each year is a tall order, and one that’s only getting taller as guests order more takeout. Changing guest behavior takes a holistic approach, and now is the optimal moment for restaurants to build a more sustainable system.
To do so, restaurants need to ultimately adopt reusable packaging as a permanent solution.This one-time switch eliminates waste from single-use paper and plastic, and lowers the operating cost of takeout for both the restaurant and the guest. A real example of this ideal system is NYC-based DeliverZero. DeliverZero provides reusable containers to 150+ restaurants, which taare delivered to guests, who then return the containers to the delivery driver on their next order.
So what can you do to reduce and reuse?
- Make single-use packaging “opt-in only” — where napkins, straws, and condiments are by request only
- For remaining single-use packaging, source materials are sourced from biodegradable materials, such as bagasse (sugarcane), bamboo, or wheatstraw.
- Sign up with DeliverZero (if you’re in NYC)
- Invest in reusable flatware and linen napkins for dine-in service
Note: This may require an investment in a commercial dishwasher and partnering with a local linen washing service.
If you’re interested in further exploring the reusable future, here are 99 sustainable steps you can take. But like any journey, the first step is the most important.