Did you know that more consumers are becoming sustainably conscious in how they eat and the restaurants they choose. Sustainability and environmentally conscious packaging is important to Australians, with a Capterra survey of 1,000 Aussie consumers revealing that 65% of them consider sustainability measures “most important” when they’re purchasing food and drink products. The same proportion, 65%, said that reducing plastic packaging was their number one concern, closely followed by reducing carbon emissions for 52% of those surveyed.
These consumers recognise that being more sustainable involves cost and effort for business owners, and they’re willing to pay more for products that don’t cost the earth: a combined 60% of those surveyed said they’re happy to pay between 10% and 20% more.
It’s good news for independent restaurants and food trucks, who often lead the way in these areas. In this article, we look at four key areas you concentrate on to make your restaurant more sustainable.
Minimise food waste
Not only is food waste a leading contributor to climate change, there’s also a strong business case for becoming more efficient in this area. An international study in 2019 found that for every dollar invested in reducing food waste in the kitchen, the average restaurant saved $7. A Victorian Government study estimated that around 78% of food and beverage companies’ total waste sent to landfill was organic and therefore could be avoided, reduced or diverted (before reaching the bin) or composted (afterwards).
To work out how to minimise food waste, it helps to start with a food waste audit. There are three main areas food gets wasted: in preparation, on plates and in spoilage. Here’s a thorough guide to running your own audit – the short version is to separate these three kinds of waste for a two-week period so you can identify where your organic waste is coming from and where you can make the most improvement.
If it’s prep waste, can you change your menu to use less wasteful ingredients or take a more nose-to-tail (or fin-to-gill or root-to-shoot) approach? If it’s plate waste, can you reduce your serving sizes and save money at the same time? If it’s spoilage, take a look at your ordering. Square for Restaurants inventory tools may be able to help you more efficiently manage your ordering and stock levels by showing you what you’ve sold out of or, conversely, have too much of left over.
Reduce water usage
Water conservation is another important pillar of sustainability. The good news is that any gains you make here will save you money. Investments you make in water-saving technology should pay for themselves after only a couple of years.
Start with a water audit. Check your meter each day for two weeks to get your baseline measurement. Take a tour of your premises and note any leaks, dribbling cisterns or dripping taps. It’s a good idea to check your meter when your business is closed and no-one is using any water. If the meter changes over a five-minute period, then you probably have a leak somewhere. Leaks can add up to thousands of litres over a year.
Think about your patterns of water use. You could start where the ingredients come in and follow the food preparation to see what processes are the most water intensive. Is there anything you could do differently? Take photos so you and your team can brainstorm ideas later.
Get everyone involved. Water saving initiatives – and this applies to other sustainability areas too – should start with management, with consistent messaging, and should extend to the whole team. Make it part of your induction, talk about it at staff meetings and consider appointing a water champion who will track progress and celebrate wins.
Your dishwasher might be the single biggest water user in your kitchen. Make sure it has a high efficiency rating and wait until it’s full before running it.
Installing low-flow taps and mixers across kitchens and bathrooms is a cost-effective way to save water. Low-flow spray taps save water when pre-rinsing dishes for the dishwasher, or go even further by not rinsing under running water. Instead, half fill a second sink with rinse water or – if you only have one sink – wash, stack and rinse with a pot of water.
If you’re designing a new restaurant, can you incorporate water-saving technology like capturing rainwater for a kitchen garden or using in bathrooms?
Consider your coffee cups
Australia’s love of good coffee has the unfortunate side effect of sending somewhere between 1 billion and 1.8 billion single-use coffee cups to landfill each year. If you’re running a cafe and you’d like to cut down on waste, takeaway cups are something you’ll need to think about.
Takeaway cups aren’t recyclable with kerbside plastic collection. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer them at all – there are things you can do to minimise your impact. If you’re using traditional plastic-lid and polyethylene-lined takeaway cups then you could join a network like the Simply Cups program, which encourages customers to separate their lids and cups before dropping them into tubes for collection and upcycling into a wide range of products.
Or you could use compostable coffee cups, such as those offered by BioPak. It’s important to note that these need to make their way to a commercial composting facility to break down into nutritious compost. That’s because nothing much decomposes in the oxygen-depleted, methane-producing underworld of landfill. Even a head of lettuce, which might compost in a couple of weeks in the right conditions, can take 25 years to decompose in landfill!
BioPak has helped to develop Compost Connect, a network helping Australian businesses find organic waste collectors in their area. The scheme currently services more than 2,200 suburbs across the country, backed by 18 waste collectors. Participating businesses receive labelled organic bins to encourage their customers to do the right thing.
Most of us know the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra. Reducing single-use containers in the first instance could be your goal. Sydney cafe Cat and Cow recently told Good Food that they encourage their customers to sit down for coffee, swap-and-go or use a reusable cup. Those who do want a BioPak takeaway pay 50c extra and the money is donated to ocean clean-up.
Swap-and-go schemes like Green Caffeen tick the “reuse” box by establishing closed-loop systems across multiple participating cafes where customers can swap their interchangeable cups to redeem an initial cup deposit. These schemes overcome the “Oh no, I left my reusable cup at home” problem.
A mug library is a lo-fi alternative to the schemes listed above. It’s a collection of opp-shop style ceramic cups that customers are encouraged to borrow and return. If one of these pre-loved cups doesn’t come back straight away, that’s OK.
Choose home-compostable takeaway containers
After the pandemic, home delivery is here to stay. It likely makes up a larger part of your revenue than ever before. It’s an important part of your business, so how can you make it as eco-friendly as possible?
Much of what we said about coffee cups applies here, too. Unfortunately, most plastic containers won’t be recyclable and biodegradable containers need to make their way to a commercial composting facility.
Given these restrictions, the gold standard becomes home-compostable packaging that can go into backyard green waste. It’s made from bagasse, a hot-liquids safe, microwaveable and oven-proof sugarcane byproduct. Sugarcane only takes a year to grow, compared to the 20 years it might take to grow a tree that gets pulped into cardboard. Making bagasse containers produces lower carbon emissions than other comparable packaging.
Sadly, many local councils (LGAs) won’t accept home-compostable containers in their FOGO (food organics garden organics) green bins. Technically, they can be recycled with paper and cardboard but, again, we notice many LGAs saying they don’t accept these materials as part of home collection.
It’s worth remembering that poor lettuce head – if you’re adopting this kind of more sustainable packaging then consider an education campaign for your customers to encourage them to keep compostable containers out of landfill.
Part education, part marketing campaign, we mean. If you’ve recently switched to more sustainable packaging, then you deserve to brag a little. Your messaging might be, “Hey, we know the Earth is important to you. It’s important to us, too! That’s why we’ve switched to home compostable packaging. But we need your help. Our local council won’t accept these containers in your green bin – and they could take years to break down in landfill – so they need to be composted at home. If you live in an apartment block or can’t compost in your backyard, you can bring them back to us and we’ll put them in our organic bin, or you can drop them to [insert your local environmental scheme here].”
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.