5 Ways to Remove Paper & Plastic from Your Restaurant

From plastic straws to paper menus, restaurants generate quite a bit of trash - the industry average is an amazing 100,000 pounds per year. Making small changes to reduce paper, plastic, and polystyrene use can reduce landfill waste, change our air quality, and improve public health, without a big impact on your wallet. Here are a few ideas to think about:

1. SWITCH STRAWS

One way to reduce plastic waste is to cut back on your stay-use. Restaurants that offer straws rather than automatically handing them out see up to 50% - 80% of customers opt-out. Some restaurants have even eliminated straws entirely. Another alternative, biodegradable straws (which are still better for the environment), are about half a cent each from retailers like Earth Straws.

Every day, the United States goes through a whopping 500 million straws - enough to fill up 217 school busses - but most of which end up in landfills, oceans, or as littler in our communities. Once there, they take up to 200 years to decompose, while the slowly release chemicals into our environment. Biodegradable paper alternatives dissolve in less than a year - and as quickly as 180 days in the right environment. Biodegradable straws are also made from cheap, renewable materials like bamboo, corn, and starch-based resins (instead of polypropylene gas)- and you can purchase in bulk.

2. Reach for Recycled

A simple green fix is to switch your menus (if they're printed)to a recycled paper. Recycled paper has three main advantages over its virgin bleached rival. First, recycled paper reduces landfill waste, making fewer piles of trash in our communities. It also reduces deforestation, since fewer trees are cut down for pulp, which improves our air quality and wildlife habitats. The third difference is in its processing. Bleaching paper with chlorine creates hazardous pollutants that have been associated with health defects. Recycled production also uses less water and produces less waste than regular paper. You can see how your current type of paper impacts the environment with this Paper Calculator, and how alternatives compare.

3. Stay Sayonara to Styrofoam (& Plastic) Trash

Trade your styrofoam cups and plastic takeout boxes for an environmentally friendly alternative, like biodegradable materials made from starch or recycled paper products.

Technically, the name of the first disastrous material is polystyrene (styrofoam is a popular brand name), and it poses environmental problems from start to finish. The material is made from petroleum, a non-renewable fossil fuel that never breaks down. In 1986, the EPA ranked polystyrene the fifth biggest hazardous waste creator. Toxins in the material, which can leak into our food and the environment, have been linked with reproductive and other health problems. In the restaurant industry, polystyrene isn't recycled because it's highly expensive to remove food residue, and instead accounts for even more landfill waste than paper. In Taiwan, Portland, and Orange County its use has been completely outlawed.

Plastics sit right beside polystyrene as a landfill hogging takeout option. Plastics also never break down, release carcinogenic chemicals, and expend non-renewable energy sources. If you have plastic cups for use during sit-down service, you might want to consider replacing them with a more permanent alternative, or adding a few recycling bins.

4. Better Bags

You've seen re-usable bags in the grocery line, but your regulars might also consider a branded canvas to-go bag. Your customers can support your business and the environment! Printed bags can run under $1 each.

5. Paperless Payments

Paper receipts are both a nuisance and an environmental hazard. Every year, paper receipts consumer 9.6 million trees, 115 million gallons of gas, and one billion gallons of water in the US alone. They also create over a billion pounds of trash that clog our landfills and emit CO2 emissions that damage the ozone. Try going paperless with mobile payment companies and email receipts. 

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To learn more about how your restaurant or bar could go paperless with Split here: Accept Split.