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5 packaging lessons learned the hard way

September 20, 2016

What lessons can restaurateurs learn after converting to environmentally responsible packaging, like recyclable cups or compostable plates? Here are five:

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1. Recycling foodservice packaging can be tricky.

Just because you put something in the recycling bin doesn’t mean it gets recycled.  In order for a material to actually be recycled, someone must want to buy it and turn it into something new. Unfortunately, there are both real and perceived barriers when it comes to recycling used foodservice packaging, such as concerns about food contamination. Check with your recycling facility about what happens to the foodservice packaging they receive.

 

2. Compost your packaging — if possible.

Unless you’re extremely diligent with signage and education, asking guests to sort their recyclables from the trash may be an uphill battle. When you use compostable materials, customers can throw everything into the same bin. That makes the process easier for them and you. Go to FindAComposter.com to find a facility near you.

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3. Always be mindful of greenwashing.

Restaurants that make the commitment to go green face another challenge: How do they know whether the “compostable” cups and plates they buy really are compostable? Some manufacturers are clear about the claims they make. Others aren’t. It’s good to ask questions and important to make sure the “green” products bought are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute, or BPI. That will help you know exactly what you’re purchasing. Go to BPI’s website for a full list of certified products.

 

4. Good corporate citizenship is important to your guests.

Many consumers, particularly Millennials, want “their” brands to act responsibly. According to a recent survey by the Natural Marketing Institute, when U.S. consumers know that a company is environmentally and socially conscious, 58 percent say they’re more likely to try its products or services. Further, 53 percent say they’re more likely to become repeat customers. Foodservice packaging can be a powerful way to not only communicate your commitment to sustainability, but also strengthen your brand’s image.

 

5. There are a lot of compostable packaging choices.

From innovating with different materials to designing new products, there is now a wide variety of compostable packaging options available for use. These include such materials as polylactic acid, or plastic made from plants; bagasse, the fiber that remains after sugarcane is processed for sugar; and post-consumer content, or material that is recovered from a used product and turned into something new. These are all being used to create single-use cups, to-go containers, cutlery, and other types of packaging.

 

Keeping these five issues in mind when considering your packaging needs can only help you be more efficient and sustainable going forward.

 Sarah Martinez is Sustainability Maven for Eco-Products, which makes foodservice packaging from renewable resources and post-consumer recycled content.