The cooperative I run has helped dozens of restaurants and cafes during the past several years push toward zero waste -- a philosophy that encourages the reconstruction of resource life cycles so that all waste is reused or recycled.

Food service businesses pushing toward zero waste focus on reducing their waste wherever possible and then rerouting all leftover waste toward recycling & composting facilities. To achieve this, I've found these businesses combine three critical strategies:

Zero Waste

1) Doing Away With All Non Recyclable Or Compostable Waste - I've found that a variety of today's eco-friendly restaurants and coffee shops successfully get rid of all waste that can not be composted or recycled. For outbound supplies (ones used by consumers), numerous businesses have shifted over to biodegradable food packaging (e.g., biodegradable coffee cups, biodegradable plates, biodegradable utensils, compostable bowls). Please note: Managers should make sure that any product labeled biodegradable meets ASTM D-6400 for compostability in a commercial composting facility. Incoming supplies are a little more difficult to control (e.g., it's more difficult to make sure that your vendor doesn't wrap your fruits in cellophane), but still quite a few restaurants have been able to get vendors to avoid using product packaging which is hard to recycle (e.g., polystyrene).

2) Doing Away With Trash Cans - I have seen quite a few eco-minded restaurant owners eliminate or significantly reduce the size of their trash bin. This seems to be an extremely powerful tactic provided that you've already executed tactic #1 and switched a majority of your packaging to items like biodegradable coffee cups and biodegradable plates. By eliminating your trash bin, you force consumers to think before they discard their food & packaging waste into a composting or recycling bin; and when combined with compelling recycling & composting signs, this is an extremely effective strategy for getting customers to self-sort their recyclables & compostables in-store.

3) Educating The Employees - I've found that restaurants that are the best at moving toward zero waste take significant effort to train their staff on effective recycling practices, composting practices, and the use of reusable goods. Education is key when answering customer questions (e.g., which bin does this spoon go in?) and to ensure the effective sorting of waste that has been left on countertops or in the prep area. Further, having employees that are passionate about a business' move toward zero waste will go a long way toward embedding that feeling into a restaurants' culture and the minds of its customers.

Hope you enjoyed learning about the sustainable steps being taken by food service businesses. Good luck on your green-minded journey!