Why should restaurants go green? Restaurant owners are always looking for ways to save money and cut down on waste. You can do both by going green. Here are five ways you can recycle, increase sustainability, and save money all at the same time.
1. Use Extra Food and Cooking Products
By the nature of the business, restaurants tend to throw away a lot of food – according to a study by the University of Arizona; and this equals 9.55 percent of fast food and 11.3 percent of sit-down restaurants’ food. This means that money is lost, too.
As far as environmental impact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that 22 percent of waste in landfills comes from food waste, and a whopping 20 percent of the United States’ methane gas emissions come from those landfills. So reducing food and cooking waste in your restaurant will help the planet in a meaningful way.
Here are some ways your restaurant can re-purpose leftover food or cooking products:
- Donate to a food bank. Call up your local food banks and offer your edible leftovers – such as fruits that aren’t pretty but can still be eaten – to them. Apps like MealConnect will hook you up right away. Many will come and get them for free. It’s a win-win.
- Donate food scraps as animal feed. You’ll have to check with your local solid waste program or county agricultural office for details – laws vary by state. A local farm may take this one on for you.
- Many areas provide green trash pick-up where you can recycle plant products into compost; check with your local solid waste program. Most even offer bins for free.
- Creatively re-purpose leftover ingredients. That fruit mentioned above can be turned into jams, desserts, or sauces. Stale bread can be turned into croutons or toast. Leftover vegetables can go into stews and soups.
- Buy less food. Analyze what’s purchased versus what gets eaten, and cut down on the volume of food purchased.
- Recycle your cooking oil and grease waste so it can be used as biofuel. This also drastically cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions. Use a company that will set up an oil collection and recycling system for you, so you don’t even have to think about it.
2. Focus on Seasonal, Local Menu Items
Instead of planning menu items that use produce from other states or countries, look for ways to use products from nearby farms. Using seasonally available and local vegetables and produce will accomplish multiple tasks. It will:
- Support your local economy.
- Cut down on greenhouse gas emissions caused by transporting food from far away.
- Provide variety in your menu. Having some items only available for a short time creates scarcity, which makes people want to come in while they can get it. This is why the Starbucks holiday flavors are only available for short periods, and why the McDonald’s only occasionally offers the McRib sandwich.
- Attract customers who care about the environment. The farm-to-table movement is enormous, and customers also like to support local businesses.
3. Switch to Green Cleaners
Cleaning your restaurant kitchen equipment with chemicals like bleach or ammonia are effective but toxic. Employees must be careful when handling them and use protective gear.
Consider switching to other chemicals that do the job without harming the skin or creating polluted air that can trigger asthma. Look for ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, iodine, citric acid, or fatty acid. These cleaners also bear the Green Seal or Eco Logo labels to certify they’re non-toxic and effective. You can also investigate the chemical standards recommended by the Green Restaurant Association.
Here’s a handy guide to green cleaners:
- Use citric-based cleaners for grease cleaning. This also kills mildew, mold, and bacteria, plus gets rid of hard water stains and soap scum.
- Use vinegar-based glass cleaners instead of ammonia-based ones.
- Use baking soda, borax, and soap to clean ovens.
- Use boric acid to kill insects.
If you mix these yourself (usually just mixed with water; there are lots of formulas on the Internet), these options are also much cheaper than buying commercially-made, toxic ones.
4. Use Sustainable Supplies
Switching to sustainable restaurant supplies might seem like it will cost you more, but it will save you money and could increase business from environmentally minded consumers.
- Many states or municipalities have already outlawed plastic bags, straws, and Styrofoam containers. If yours hasn’t, you can make the switch now.
- Use as little plastic and wrappings as possible for take-out. This will save you money, too.
- Always select containers made from recycled materials. There are many types of containers that can go straight into the compost pile.
- Consider only offering straws if customers ask. Switch to paper straws. Fewer straws mean less money spent on them.
- Consider offering a small discount if customers bring in their reusable utensils or straws. Like many people do with reusable coffee cups, they will carry their own pack of utensils and a metal straw. You could offer them a few cents off if they have their own supplies.
5. Go Paperless
Your invoicing, payroll, and assorted other documentation can all go digital-only. This requires a little set-up and perhaps learning some new programs, but it will save you lots of money in the end.
Instead of using paper receipts, use a restaurant point of sale system that syncs with your customers’ phone numbers to text or email them their receipts. You can still offer a paper option for those who need it, but it will cut down on the amount of receipt tape you have to buy.
Your restaurant can take all of these steps or just one step at a time. Going green helps attract a younger generation of customers who prioritize the planet, and save you money with some cost-cutting measures. The bottom line is that going green in your restaurant is not only good for the environment, but it can also help increase your profits.