As we hurtle into the new decade of renewable energy, 3-dimensional movies, and health care reform, there is one topic on the forefront of everyone’s mind: going “green.” Whether you are an eco-soldier who has cultivated a compost pile in their backyard or a simple recycler who makes sure their soda cans don’t go to the landfill, there is no denying that being eco-friendly is becoming a way of life for Americans. And with a projected record high $580 billion in sales for 2010 in the restaurant industry (National Restaurant Association), this is a trend that hospitality professionals cannot afford to ignore. With billions of people going out to eat each year and many of them bringing leftovers home, food packaging is an imperative part of the restaurant industry. Styrofoam, plastic bags and boxes are so prevalent that you could most likely think of at least three that you’ve thrown away in the past week. But these products, while ideal for cheap and easy food transportation, are not at the top of the class when it comes to being environmentally friendly. Luckily, there are new alternatives to the typical styrofoam clamshell: organic packaging.Although products made from all-organic materials tend to be more expensive than ones made of styrofoam or plastic, it is a small price to pay considering the benefits of making the “green” switch. Four in 10 Americans have stated that they would prefer to take their business to a restaurant who they know to be environmentally conscious (National Restaurant Association), and sending them home with leftovers in containers made from organic products is an ideal way to show them that you have gone “green.” – Kelly O’Quinn
Only 16% of water bottles sold in California are being recycled. At that rate, in 10 years or less, the amount of bottles thrown in the trash will be enough to create a two lane, six-inch deep highway that stretches the coast of California.
Arriving on the scene are companies using bottles and containers made from PLA, a corn based product. A fermentation and distillation process was designed to create a polymer from non-petroleum based resources. This technology is being used to create clothes, cups, to-go containers, water bottles and more. For those of us concerned about the growing use of GMOs in our crops, you’ll be happy to know that the corn being used for this process is not grown from genetically modified seeds. Products made from this polymer can be recycled and re-used or broken down to its simplest parts so that no sign of it remains.
Polymers like PLA are more oil and grease resistant than existing petroleum-based polymers and are being used more and more for packaging fresh foods. The production of these products uses up to 50% less fossil fuel and releases a lower amount of greenhouse gasses. Look for new products using this process for a greener and cleaner environment. – Chef Debbi Dubbs
Styrofoam, the common term for extruded polystyrene foam, was once the go-to material for packaging and transporting food in the restaurant industry. But Styrofoam had some serious flaws – a typical cup takes about 50 years to biodegrade, and during that time, the substance has a tendency to break down into tiny pieces and find its way into our oceans and into the digestive tracks of animals who mistake the pieces for food. Plus, the material can’t be burned off since Styrofoam uses the chemical benzene in its production, which is a known human carcinogen and is extremely toxic.
Though the complete elimination of Styrofoam in the food industry is still a long ways away, laws are being created to keep the harmful material out of our landfills. Laguna Beach was the first city in Orange County to put a ban on restaurants using Styrofoam containers, followed closely by Newport Beach in 2008. Few cities in California have enforced the law, but are joining the cause at a rapid rate: this April, Palo Alto became the 23rd coastal California city to ban Styrofoam food containers.
Currently, there are several parties – including politicians and environmentalists – working towards a statewide ban on Styrofoam. Should this legislation pass, California would be the first state to make such a law. – Erin DeWitt
There are a variety of biodegradable and compostable take-out containers that are available to the restaurant industry. More and more companies that distribute food service packaging are creating take-out containers that are made of recycled and renewable material and are also completely biodegradable. Some are even made of sugarcane fiber! All of these eco-friendly options prove to be great alternatives to the ol’ go-to Styrofoam container.