If you are somebody hankering for the end of plastic restaurant waste winding up in the ocean, 2020 will be disappointing. The realities of COVID-19 mean that most food businesses have had to increase their use of plastic to help contain the virus.
The UN wants to reduce global food waste by fifty percent by 2030 to take the pressure off land resources. Yellow grease disposal services that process cooking oil for secondary uses have seen booming business in recent years. But even so, it looks like the coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works. Eateries have to increase the amount of plastic they use for hygiene reasons, potentially undoing much of the work done to clean up the industry.
Environmentalists worry about restaurants for two reasons. The first is the methods that they use to dispose of their waste. Most food byproducts, like vegetable clippings, can go to compost. But some things, like oils or spoiled meats, need special processing. And that costs money.
The second issue is how to dispose of their plastic waste and packaging. Restaurant meals are okay because most eateries reuse crockery and cutlery. But with so many establishments closing their doors and providing take-out only services, this has become an issue. The amount of plastic waste for distributing and transporting food is growing exponentially.
What Does The Research Say?
Research from internet-based food delivery service, Just Eats, estimates that the lockdown will result in a 25 percent increase in restaurant-related waste. Take out meals require individual boxes for each dish, plus a bag or outer wrapper to contain all the food.
Some takeaways use compostable, recycled paper, which has a minimal environmental impact. But there are still many who prefer to use styrofoam – a material that can survive in the ground for more than a thousand years.
The lockdown is also leading to an uptick in the number of meal orders. Estimates suggest that the amount of money people spend on take-out each month has gone up by a third.
Again, this fact raises environmental concerns. Not only does delivery involve more plastic waste, but it also uses more CO2.
The Effect Of Stockpiling
Interestingly, though, the lockdown has provided opportunities for people to consider just how much food waste they produce. During stockpiling in the early stages of the pandemic, shoppers understood the true extent of packaging and food waste. Many were appalled at what they found when they had more time on their hands.
Ultimately, therefore, the virus could help reduce the amount of waste generated by restaurants via consumer pressure. People want to see evidence that the establishments they frequent take the matter of resource consumption seriously and that they’re doing something about it.
Already, we see take-outs experimenting with a variety of options. Some use reusable plastic tubs, and patrons return to the restaurant when they’ve finished with them. Whatever happens, waste is an issue that needs tackling in the food sector. If it isn’t, consumers will simply switch to more eco-friendly options.