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Minimization of Disposable Food Service Items

In expanding the platforms of your restaurant’s green initiatives, a great launching pad can be to closely observe how your product is being presented to the customer. If your customer is dining in, are they being presented with disposable-ware? If so, it is important to consider the positive implications of investing in reusable serving options and offering more environmentally-friendly packaging solutions. The production of disposable products is extremely resource intensive. Of course in many cases, restaurants cannot rid themselves completely of disposables because of take-out options. In the instance of patrons taking their food “to-go,” consider using disposables that can be recycled, composted, or those made of renewable resources. Click on the items below for definitions, benefits, examples, and resources for finding products and vendors.

DISCLAIMER: References and links to commercial products or services do not constitute or imply an endorsement by DEQ or the Commonwealth of Virginia of such products or services, or their providers. DEQ and the Commonwealth of Virginia are not responsible for the content of external sites.

Donate Surplus Food

Definition: Provide surplus food to groups that help feed the needy.

Benefits: Donor partners can be eligible for incremental tax savings that are earned from properly saving and donating their surplus food.

Resources: Food Donation Connection manages food donation programs for food service companies interested in donating. 

Do not use any disposable containers, dishware, cutlery, or cups 

Definition: Providing disposable products (i.e. foamed polystyrene or paper products) to customers at a restaurant creates significant amounts of solid waste. A recent estimation states that Americans throw away nearly two million tons of food packaging a year! Even if these materials can be recycled, they often end up in landfills where they take up significant amounts of space and often release byproducts that could potentially leach into our groundwater.

Benefits: Getting rid of disposables in your restaurant can be a great step toward becoming a more environmentally friendly establishment. Ultimately, this could lead to a reduction in the volume of your waste output and allow for more efficient use of landfill space. Additionally, getting rid of disposable containers and offering reusable options can present your customer a greater quality dining experience. Reusable products last longer for your restaurant and will ultimately expend less energy in their lifetime than using a consistent cycle of disposable materials. 

Resources: Green Seal Restaurants and Food Service are standards for products, services and companies based on life-cycle research and developed in an open, transparent and stake-holder involved process.

Use disposable foodservice items that are made from bio-based, renewable materials (corn, bamboo, potato starch, sugarcane, etc.)

Definition: Bio-based renewable materials are products that can be produced from renewable agricultural materials and are biodegradable. Biodegradable products are substances that can be broken down by living organisms and returned to the earth through natural processes. There are many options in the food industry to use bio-based products made from materials such as sugarcane, reed, lime, eucalyptus, corn, bamboo, and potato starch.

Benefits: These materials can avoid a trip to the landfill and can be composted to return valuable nutrients to the soil. By using bio-based products and avoiding petroleum-based products, a smaller volume of greenhouse gases are emitted in the production process. In fact, bio-based products generate 68% fewer greenhouse gases than traditional fossil-fuel-based products. All in all, using bio-based products can distinguish your business from others and attract a fresh market of customers who are committed to environmental sustainability.

Products and vendors: Check the Virginia Green Suppliers Network.  

Use disposable foodservice that are made with recycled content

Definition: Recycled-content products are generated from materials that would have been otherwise discarded and sent to the waste stream. They are partially or totally created by materials that have been recycled in the past by consumers.

Benefits: Buying recycled content products ensures that these materials will be used again in the production of additional products. Recycled content products reduce waste and provide new valuable resources for humans at large.

Products and vendors: Check the Virginia Green Suppliers Network.

Use disposable foodservice items that are recyclable (in your area)

Definition: Recycling is a process which recovers materials that otherwise would have gone to waste and transforms them into valuable resources to be used by consumers. The materials are separated, sorted, processed, and then converted into new materials. Recycling rates are skyrocketing. Of utmost importance is ensuring that the items that are being used in your establishment are actually recyclable in your area. Look for the arrowed-loop symbol to denote the material’s recyclability. Plastics and other containers often will contain numbers to denote the nature of the material. Lower numbers (1’s and 2’s) are most often able to be recycled, and while products such as foamed polystyrene are labeled with a number (6), it does not necessarily make them recyclable in your area. It is important to contact your local recycling facility to find out what can be placed into your bin.

Benefits: By encouraging the use of recyclables in your business model, you can make a financially conscious decision that has positive social and environmental returns.

  1) Recycling protects and expands U.S. manufacturing jobs and increases U.S. competitiveness
  2) Recycling reduces the need for landfilling and incineration
  3) Recycling prevents pollution caused by the manufacturing of products from virgin materials
  4) Recycling saves energy
  5) Recycling decreases emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change
  6) Recycling conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals
  7) Recycling helps sustain the environment for future generations (EPA)

Vendors: Check the Virginia Green Suppliers Network.

Resources: See EPA's recycling information; The National Restaurant Association Conserve Program offers informative recycling guidance for restaurants. 

Use compostable foodservice items and direct this material to available composting operations in your area

Definition: Composting is a biological process of recycling organic materials (such as food waste) to support and sustain new plant growth. This process itself transforms organic material through decomposition involving various invertebrates and microorganisms living in a nutrient-rich, soil-like material known as compost. By purchasing compostable products (such as bio-based materials), your restaurant can contribute to the composting phenomenon and reduce the amount of food waste that your establishment is sending to landfills. However, buying compostable foodservice items is just the first step. It is essential that these items make their way to a composting operation or are directed to a composting bin.

  1) Cost savings from waste and disposal services
  2) Beneficial for the environment
  3) Reduces the amount of waste sent to the landfill (25% of landfill waste is organic)
  4) Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
  5) If in house-programs are implemented it, eliminates the transportation involved in hauling waste to landfills.

 Check the Virginia Green Suppliers Network.

Resources: The Mid-Atlantic Composting Directory highlights composting operations in the state of Virginia.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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