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    The Comprehensive Guide to Zero Waste Restaurants

    `Stephanie Robalino` : Posted on February 20, 2020

    Zero-waste cooking is one of the top dining trends today, while sustainability and local sourcing remain a priority for the restaurant industry since 2012. But what exactly does becoming zero-waste entail?

    Businesses can be officially be certified as zero-waste when they divert 90% of waste from landfills by reducing and reusing all resources in their restaurant establishment in the last year. This process ensures that an establishment is reducing, reusing, recycling, composting, and recovering materials for productive use in nature or the economy.

    The ultimate aim is to lessen environmental impact while running a profitable restaurant - with the potential added benefit of solidifying an eco-conscious reputation among discerning diners. 

    If becoming zero-waste is your goal, you can start becoming a more sustainable restaurant by optimizing multiple operational areas such as energy efficiency, food waste, reusable materials, animal welfare, renewable energy, water efficiency, and more. 

    Let’s dive in and learn what it takes. 

    Why Become Zero-Waste?

    At the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show, people from all over the restaurant world came to powwow about the industry’s biggest trends and how they will impact the future. Turns out, diners truly care about visiting restaurants that address concerns regarding the environment, food waste, packaging, and nutrition. 

    The environmental, economic, and social benefits of increasing sustainability in the restaurant industry are huge. Cracking down on food waste is one of the best opportunities your restaurant has to boost profitability. As your food waste is lowered, your restaurant’s bottom line increases - and you and your customers both win. 

    In short, the world is waking up to the immense waste and environmental damage we face in the not too far future. Although zero-waste isn’t a mainstream concept, customers and business owners alike are seeing that the effects waste has on a restaurant’s image and profits are hard to ignore. 

    Less food waste means more cost savings and a healthier bottom line. Sustainability can also be used as an effective marketing tool to attract millennial customers who want to eat at restaurants with sustainable practices and shared values. The National Restaurant Association reported that around half of customers say they are starting to consider restaurants’ efforts to reduce food waste and recycle when choosing where to dine.

    How To Implement Zero-Waste Strategies 

    Adopting the zero-waste lifestyle in your restaurant starts with weaving sustainable practices throughout all operations. Here are some ideas to get you started. 

    Zero-Waste Food Ideas

    • Conduct a waste audit to find waste-generating areas 

    • Order perishable ingredients in small batches and dry ingredients in bulk

    • Install water filters on taps

    • Use every part of the vegetables and fruit you buy 

    • Provide easily accessible recycling and composting bins 

    • Shop seasonally and buy locally 

    • Offer smaller portion sizes to reduce food leftover on plates

    • Advise customers on the right amount of food to order 

    • Promote taking leftovers home 

    • Offer compostable containers for takeaways and encourage customers to bring their own reusable containers

    Zero-Waste Packaging Ideas

    • Find vendors, distributors, and producers that will deliver ingredients in reusable or zero packaging 

    • Stop offering single-use items such as plastic straws, cutlery, and condiment sachets

    • Print menus on durable paper that can be recycled 

    Zero-Waste Environmental Ideas

    • Use organic, biodegradable, pH-neutral cleaning products

    • Use refillable soap containers topped up from bulk containers

    • Shop local and avoid air-freighting food

    • Purchase all reusable or compostable tableware items such as napkins and cutlery

    • Offer a plant-based menu to lower your carbon footprint

    • Collect and upcycle cooking oil into soap or sell for biodiesel use

    • Start a garden to grow herbs and vegetables to use in menu items

    Zero-Waste Inspiration

    Case in point - Henry Rich and Halley Chambers, co-owners of New York City wine bar Rhodora, spent almost 10 months and $50,000 researching zero-waste initiatives to transform their restaurant into one that could function without any trash pickup. Yep, that’s right - there’s not a single trash can on the premises. 

    The team at Rhodora got rid of their regular suppliers who wrapped food items in single-use plastic, and instead teamed up with suppliers who were willing to make deliveries in reusable packaging. 

    They have a dishwasher that converts salt into soap, a cardboard shredder that turns wine boxes into compostable material, and a heavy-duty composter on site. They even use their first batch of compost to fertilize their mini-gardens outside. Furthermore, they set out boxes from a company called TerraCycle, which deals with hard-to-recycle items. 

    Rhodora is certainly making huge strides in the zero-waste movement, and while their system isn’t perfect, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. 

    Should Your Restaurant Become Zero-Waste?

    Such a radical strategy certainly comes with challenges, including finding vendors who can accommodate requests such as compostable packaging and figuring out how to recycle broken kitchen appliances. Becoming zero-waste will certainly take time, research, and dedication to achieve, but it’s an incredible ideal to strive for. 

    Financial incentives may be available for restaurants investing in zero-waste practices. One study found that restaurants save $7 on average for every $1 invested in food waste-reduction activities. 

    If you’re still not convinced, check out our recent guide on how reducing food waste can positively affect your business’ bottom line. 

    Would you consider going zero-waste in your restaurant? Tweet us @MarketManHQ and let us know your thoughts. 


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