How restaurants are becoming more sustainable, from reusing petroleum to ditching single-use plastic

When you sit down at a restaurant, your stomach rumbles with anticipation as you wait for your order. Once you arrive, you enjoy your meal. And after finishing, the waiter collects whatever is left and throws it in the trash.

Customers don’t give much thought to the waste of the restaurant industry. But behind the scenes, the amount of waste sent to landfills is not negligible. According to the USDA, the restaurant industry loses $162 billion a year due to food waste. There is also waste from polystyrene food packaging, single-use plastic cups and cutlery, and much more.

With such massive losses, the restaurant industry must find ways to solve its waste problem. Fortunately, some entrepreneurs are already finding ways to make a difference. Here’s how the restaurant industry is taking small steps towards a more sustainable future.

3 ways the restaurant industry is becoming more sustainable

1. Use technology to get the most out of frying oil

Photo: FreshFry

The restaurant industry uses a plot of oil. In fact, frying oil is a high cost; restaurants and commercial fryers spend $80 billion there every year.

While there are ways restaurants can extend the life of frying oil, it doesn’t take long for it to start affecting taste. But Jeremiah Chapman, CEO and co-founder of FreshFry, has found a solution.

In an episode of good togetherChapman explains how his tech startup has created recycled, bio-based FreshFry pods from agricultural food waste that reduce total frying oil costs by an average of 25% and require no equipment or moving hot oil.

“The way we’re trying to approach it is correct, your oil is in the back of your restaurant – it will either go the right way or the wrong way. The right way is to sell it in quality foods. The wrong way is to throw it away because it’s disgusting,” he says. “So what FreshFry is trying to accomplish here is to preserve your oil long enough for it to be sold in quality food.”

For more on how Chapman is changing the restaurant industry for the better, listen to the latest episode of good together here.

2. Ditch single-use plastic for sustainable options

Photo: AirCarbon

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food waste and packaging make up 45% of waste sent to landfills in the United States. But AirCarbon, which was founded after 10 years of research, is trying to make a difference.

While AirCarbon looks and feels like plastic, straws, forks and knives are made using a process that occurs naturally in the ocean. First, microorganisms use air and greenhouse gases to make an energy storage material called PHB. Then this PHB is made into pellets which are melted into food packaging items.

The cool thing is that while AirCarbon products are reusable, they are also compostable and biodegradable both on land and in water. Shake Shack is already using AirCarbon in some locations and hopefully other restaurants will also start using this environmentally friendly technology.

In our 2022 Sustainability Trends Report, we shared restaurants that are incorporating plant-based options into their menus more than ever before. It’s not just at fast food outlets, like Burger King and McDonald’s. Smaller restaurants are also seeing the benefits of including planet-friendly offerings.

While vegan and vegetarian options have always been easy to find in big cities (check out all the options in Chicago, Austin, Denver, and Atlanta), restaurants in smaller areas have historically offered limited menus. But zoom in on some of the least vegan states in the country and you’ll be surprised to find that “green” meals are becoming easier to order there.

Take Iowa, for example. The state came in at number 42 out of 50, but there are plenty of examples of restaurants offering planet-friendly dishes: Reds Alehouse in North Liberty offers a Vegan Sesame Noodle Bowl with Gardein Chick’n, an Impossible Burger with dairy-free cheese. and mayo, and a vegan tamale. Then there’s Family Table in Decorah, which offers vegan pancakes, meatless chicken strips, and dairy-free nacho fries, and Cruz’s Cafe in Cedar Rapids, which offers a full vegan breakfast menu.

The restaurant industry still has a long way to go. But if more institutions follow suit and embrace some of these lasting changes, the world will be a much better place.


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About James Almanza

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