Though single-use packaging and utensils have became a key component in combating the spread of coronavirus, prior to the outbreak, movements for more sustainable options were gaining big ground. In a testament to the importance of sustainability in foodservice, respondents to the National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot” survey deemed eco-friendly packaging the industry’s No. 1 trend for 2020. As delivery and off-premise become an even larger part of the foodservice business, it has become incumbent on restaurant operators to incorporate more sustainable packaging solutions while still finding ways to offer consumers the convenience they crave.
As pressure mounts from consumers and local municipalities for restaurants to reduce their food and packaging waste, drink vessels such as disposable straws and cups have been a major target. Straws have been under particular scrutiny due to their impact on marine life, and a number of concepts have stopped automatically offering them to guests, bringing them out by request only.
As of last year, Starbucks had planned to eliminate plastic straws from its stores by 2020 and to double its packaging’s compostability and reusability by 2022. “It is with great intention that we move forward with highly collaborative and innovative work to bring both recyclable and compostable cups to scale around the world,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said last spring.
Doubling down on its efforts, Starbucks joined McDonald’s as a founding partner in the NextGen Consortium, an ongoing initiative that seeks to address packaging waste in foodservice. Its first project, NextGen Cup, is seeking to create a more sustainable to-go cup and has put several designs through various phases of vetting and testing.
But it’s not just packaging that’s being addressed. A number of restaurant brands are looking to reduce the waste created during food prep. In a fairly futuristic move, McDonald’s last year announced a partnership with Ford Motor Co. through which dried skin from the restaurant chain’s coffee beans will be used to craft car parts, such as housing for headlamps. According to Ford, millions of pounds of the skin, which is known as chaff, are shed during coffee roasting each year.
To address food waste, 13.9% of K-12 foodservice operators are composting, an FSD survey found late last year. At Smith-Green Community Schools in Churubusco, Ind., kitchen staff send leftover food scraps to the district’s elementary school for use in its flower garden.