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Improving sustainability in the restaurant industry - how you can step up to the plate

Improving sustainability in the restaurant industry - how you can step up to the plate

Faced with the daunting weight of news about the climate emergency, it might feel easier to step back in the belief that other people will solve the problem. Thanks to the European Commission Joint Research Centre, we now know that food generates around two tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions per person annually, so everyone has the chance to make a difference. 

Bringing that level down rests at all of our doors, and restaurants are in a great position to lead understanding of the problem and demonstrate clever ways for us all to tackle it. We’ve taken a look at some of the things restaurants can do to make a difference.

Could a solution to the global emergency lie in your kitchen?

Can one kitchen really make a difference, you may ask. Individually, perhaps not but there are over 120,000* kitchens serving food from restaurants, cafes, pubs, takeaways, and mobile food stands across the UK. They are serving tens of millions of customers who are also keen to learn how we can address the problems facing us so, as part of the wider food service industry, your kitchen can make a world of difference to the future of our planet.  

Does thinking globally mean buying locally?

There is much talk of “carbon miles” when people talk about making food more sustainable. The truth is that, for most foods, the transportation element is about 10%* of their carbon impact. While that is significant, it isn’t enough in its own right to tackle the problems we face so we have to think well beyond logistics and the supply chain to really get to grips with the crisis. 

Buying local food wherever possible makes economic as well as environmental sense. Managing your menus to use local ingredients that are in season will help keep costs down. And, if you find creative and delicious ways to preserve them, you’ll be able to buy in bulk when prices are lowest and stock up for the future. It’s also worth bearing in mind that your customers will appreciate your use of local ingredients and support for the local economy.

Grow your own solution to the climate crisis.

It doesn’t get much more local than growing food on your premises. You don’t need a vast amount of space, even some city-centre restaurants have found room for a couple of raised beds to grow herbs and salad ingredients in their back gardens and outdoor spaces. For the more technically minded, there are vertical gardening solutions using grow lamps and hydroponics. And one enterprising company is fitting out shipping containers to create micro gardens using solar panels to fuel the grow lamps inside. Having fresh herbs and salad ingredients immediately to hand not only gives your customers the very freshest food possible, and a great marketing story, but also reduces the risk of perishable ingredients going to waste.

There’s no place for waste on a sustainable planet

One third** of the food produced in the world is never eaten. And, when you learn that food production accounts for over a quarter* of all greenhouse gases, you’ll understand why it is so important to reduce the amount of food waste we generate. The UK’s food and hospitality businesses are responsible for over a million tonnes of food waste annually** and restaurants account for over a fifth of this. That is estimated to cost the industry £682** million every year so, how you deal with yours will have a huge bearing on the health of your business as well as the health of our planet. 

There is a huge variety of resources to help you identify the causes of food waste in your business and strategies to address them. Waste Resources Action Plan (WRAP) provides excellent guidance for restaurants as part of their Guardians of Grub campaign .

Avoiding food waste is only part of the sustainability story. Food waste emits methane as it breaks down. As a greenhouse gas, methane is up to 86 times*** more potent than CO2 it’s first twenty years in the atmosphere. WRAP estimates that food waste is responsible for 7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in its own right. That is why it is so important to ensure your unavoidable food waste is collected separately by a resource management company who will capture the methane safely, use it to create renewable energy, and avoid landfill. 

Stopping waste doesn’t end with food waste

Zero waste restaurants are springing up around the world demonstrating just what is possible with a little imagination and some dedication. The biggest problem restaurants face tends to be supplier packaging but, by discussing reusable or fully recyclable packaging with your suppliers, this can often be addressed relatively easily. Most suppliers are as keen to do the right thing as you are. Another major issue is removing unrecyclable plastics such as cling film from your kitchen and we’ve given some great tips on how to do this in our recent plastics blog .

The two hidden waste streams that could be costing the earth

The water and electricity flowing into your site both consume significant amounts of energy. The power required to collect, process, pump and supply fresh water to our taps is huge and large amounts of energy are also used to process the wastewater going down our drains. Making employees aware of this, and encouraging them to use water more carefully, is a simple way to improve your carbon footprint. 

Electricity is the other resource flowing through your kitchen that can eat up cash and carbon. Switching to LED and turning lights off, whenever they are not needed, is just a small change that can make a big difference. Turning heated elements, such as fryers, down during downtimes, and checking equipment is working efficiently at all times, will also add to your sustainability while reducing your power bills.    

Improving your sustainability on paper

Reducing the amount of paper you use is a really simple way to reduce your environmental impact. Print your menus on recycled paper and use a chalk board for specials. Many customers would prefer an email receipt than paper and this is easy to configure with most POS systems.

Introducing paperless systems to your office practices can have a real impact. At Olleco, we saw a significant improvement in our paper use when we switched from paper waste transfer notes to emails. This switch alone saved nearly half a million sheets of paper which amounted to a two tonne saving in CO2 over a year.

Paper napkins are generally not recyclable - especially when they have been contaminated with food, so why not switch to linen? It may add to your laundry costs but it’ll reduce the amount of waste going to landfill or incineration.


Remember, you’re not the only one seeing the daily news briefings about how climate change has the power to destroy everything we treasure about our planet. Your customers and employees are seeing them too. They are keen to embrace the changes that will help us all avoid catastrophe and, by advertising your initiatives and demonstrating that you are doing all you can, you have the power to inspire them to enjoy your food even more than they do now in the knowledge that you are helping them to do the right thing. 

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