Plastic Waste and Restaurants: Who is Responsible ?

Single-use plastic has played a crucial role in the restaurant business for the last fifty years in a variety of forms from bowls and cups to utensils and take-out containers. However, plastic litter from takeout orders alone is one of the prime sources of the estimated 269,000 tons of litter in our oceans and waterways. Even those disposed of into landfills, can take up to a thousand years to decompose leading to serious consequences for our environment.

Who is Accountable?

In Europe, multinational corporations agree to pay for collection of the food packaging they put out; however, these same corporations often refuse to accept that responsibility in the United States. Even companies who have established corporate sustainability programs fail to wholly account for what happens to their packaging after its use, including its impact on the environment. Consumers can help by rallying for more sustainable brands; however, recycling infrastructure needs to be in place for real change to occur.

Brands Taking the Lead

Certain brands have stepped forward in light of the environmental damage and decided to be proactive in taking responsibility for their generation of single-use plastic. Starbucks is a great example of a brand who by partnering with Closed Loop Partners, launched a global effort to develop and commercialize a recyclable, compostable cup solution. McDonalds is yet another recent contender in the match, announcing plans to ensure 100% of their packaging is derived from renewable, sustainable, or recycled sources within the next seven years. Coca-Cola took a similar stand with The Coca-Cola Company’s World Without Waste Initiative, which promises to collect and recycle every bottle or can produced by the company by 2030.

Contribute to the Solution

Here are just a few of the ways restaurants can help to reduce waste entering into our oceans or landfills:

  • Perform a waste audit
  • Purchase in bulk when possible
  • Utilize reusable dish ware for in-house dining
  • Make disposable items like straws or lids available upon request only
  • Provide condiments in bulk containers
  • Offer financial incentives for customers who bring reusable containers
  • Purchase products with the minimum amount of packaging
  • Change paper receipts to email or text receipts

Correction: The original version contained a factual error misstating that plastics had been used in the restaurant industry for “hundreds of year.” The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 but the popularity of using plastics didn’t really begin until the 1960s. If you would like to read more on the history of plastics this is an interesting resource. 


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