Restaurants, It's About Dollars and Sense

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I love going out to eat.

I love food and the experience of being some place warm and inviting and enjoying a family style meal, breaking bread, with the people I enjoy. Nothing beats a well cooked, flavorful meal shared with family and friends!

Going from working in a restaurant for twelve years to working in a zero waste company I am undoubtedly a self proclaimed restaurant critic. I can’t help what has been branded into me. I notice everything from service to smiles, place settings, loudness of music, ambiance, cleanliness, food plating and more. I am also proudly aware that I grew up as part of the clean plate club… if it’s on your plate you have to eat it. Food never gets wasted. It’s too important.

 

That being said I have to admit that there are times when my eyes are bigger than my stomach.
 

Leftovers are often enjoyed for lunch the next day or turned into something different. Yesterday’s soup becomes tonight’s sauce with a few added ingredients. No waste, no want.

 

How my take home leftovers are brought to me at the end of a good meal will undoubtedly determine how I end up feeling about my whole restaurant experience.

If I have a wonderful meal and my leftovers are placed in a styrofoam to-go container I most likely will be disappointed. I can’t help it. I know that I am going to have to throw that styrofoam into my garbage can and it will end up at the landfill and if I were to dig up that one spot where my styrofoam container went in a hundred years, it will still look the same as it did the day it went in there.

As a customer who wants to return to the restaurant where my meal was wonderful and the only disappointment was my to-go container, I have options. I can either bring my own to go container, order less food so I do not have leftovers, or ask the server at the end of my meal if they have something other than styrofoam to put my leftovers in. Often times, I have found, restaurants do have some other form of to-go container. It may not be made for the type of food I am taking home but it is recyclable or compostable.

 

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not poo-pooing what I know restaurants need to do. It’s a dollars and cents thing when it comes to to-go containers. Styrofoam is inexpensive and often times, in order to be able to offer better cuts of meat and fresher vegetables, to-go containers are very low on the list of things that a restaurant owner wants to pay more money for. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.
 

I know how much waste there is in a restaurant. People waste a lot of food. Kitchen prep waste is significant too. I’ve seen it! I’ve lived it! It always broke my heart a little bit when I was scraping a customer’s almost full plate into a garbage can. I would think about a family in need who would love to have these leftovers. It made me feel embarrassed and ashamed of the society we have created, a wasteful society.

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When we started Impact Earth in 2014 one of the things I wanted to focus on was what we could do to help restaurants and their customers create less waste.

 

We researched options that were available all over Europe and decided we needed to be able to offer some of these options right here at home, in the Finger Lakes.
 

We have partnered with composting companies all throughout the Finger Lakes region as well as with local packaging manufacturers to offer options for restaurants that are cost effective and environmentally sustainable. Now it is possible for restaurants to offer recyclable or compostable to-go containers, to have compost bins in their kitchens and by their dish pits for their staff to use. By removing the weight of the food waste from their “garbage” restaurants can now decrease the size of their landfill bins and save money. It doesn’t have to cost more to be an environmentally sustainable restaurant. We offer options for that and work with each restaurant owner to provide a specialized program for them that really focuses on what their individual goals are. And it works! Year after year we get more restaurants and caterers who want to be part of our zero waste network.

 
As a person who loves to go out to eat and has environmental sustainability on the brain at all times it is now possible to enjoy a meal from beginning to end and after. I’m not afraid to bring my own to-go containers to restaurants I know have no viable option for me. I’m also not afraid to leave my card at those places with a note saying we can help!

Change can be a scary thing, but it doesn't have to be.

We call what we are working toward at Impact Earth an evolution, not a revolution. Change takes time. Changing mindsets and educating people takes time.
 

But why not start now? You don’t have to do it alone. We can help. We want to help! All you have to do is take one baby step at a time. The first step is looking at your restaurant and seeing if there are things you can do better to not be so wasteful. The next step is reaching out to us and telling us what changes you want to make. From there we will work with you to help you reach your goals. It’s that easy. It really is…

 

 

- Elizabeth Carey, Impact Earth Co-Founder