Tackling Food Service Waste, Pre- and Post-Pandemic

In 2018, PSI published a guide for restaurants and eateries on how to reduce food service waste. Working with four restaurants and many community members in Greenport, New York, we developed concrete tools and steps these businesses could take in order to reduce their use of single-use plastics and other forms of disposable service ware, thereby reducing the amount of marine debris washing up on Long Island’s beaches. The project was such a success that we wanted to do more. In 2019, we received funding from New York Sea Grant to update and expand our Restaurant Guide by working with a group of restaurants in Buffalo, NY.

While Buffalo is not a coastal community like Greenport, it does sit right on the shores of Lake Eerie and is famously connected to Lake Ontario via Niagara Falls. Aquatic debris is common in the Great Lakes, and we were excited to join together with the Buffalo community to tackle the issue upstream. We started by partnering with restaurants, as well as Eerie and Niagara Counties, the City of Buffalo, the Visit Buffalo Niagara center, and local environmental advocates at Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment. Our aim was to develop customized plastic source reduction plans for all of our participating restaurants using the tools we had developed in Greenport, and to expand upon these existing tools with tailor-made materials that businesses could use to inform their customers about the changes they were making.

Unfortunately, our project did not quite go as planned. Early in 2020, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 became a global pandemic and businesses across the U.S. were forced to shut down. All of our participating restaurants in Buffalo were impacted, either closing temporarily or switching to take-out-only business models. Sadly, the switch to take-out required them to use a lot of disposable service ware. As we checked in with our Buffalo partners, our conversations with them about their switch to take-out got us thinking… How could we best support them moving forward to ensure they could remain open and serving their customers safely while operating in a completely new – and much more disposable – world? Thanks to quick responses from NY Sea Grant and the project’s advisory committee, we were able to pivot our work to focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on restaurant waste, focusing our attention on creating resources for our partner restaurants and the broader Buffalo community.

We are proud to present our updated Guide for Restaurants and Eateries: 5 Easy Steps to Reduce Plastic and Benefit your Business. The Guide and accompanying web hub are complete with helpful tips for reducing plastic waste while operating as a take-out/delivery business, and models for safe, sustainable waste reduction in a post-COVID landscape.

Here’s a shout-out to the amazing restaurants we worked with for this project:

  • Bob Syracuse, owner of the Pizza Plant Italian Pub in Buffalo and Williamsville, was the very first restaurant to partner with us. Bob is not only dedicated to sustainability in food service – which was clear through his participation in the project’s advisory committee – he also serves on the Western New York Chapter of the New York State Restaurants Association. Bob was a true leader on this project.
  • Years ago, owner Ellie Grenauer of Williamsville’s Glen Park Tavern started the Williamsville farmers market with a friend, creating the ideal source for local produce for her restaurant all summer long. After pledging to reduce the restaurant’s plastic footprint with us, Ellie also eliminated plastic bags and switched to compostable straws.
  • At the Parkside Meadow restaurant in Buffalo, proprietor Nancy Abramo already recycled cardboard – and lots of it – as well as all wine and liquor bottles. She also used sugarcane-based clamshells for to-go orders placed over the phone and experimented with switching to paper straws. Because paper straws can be pricey, she ultimately told her servers not to provide them unless requested, which elicited a largely positive response from patrons.
  • Angelo Ashker, owner of Ashker’s, had implemented a progrm for customers wishing to avoid disposable take-out items. His popular bottle trade program gave customers a glass bottle with a lid for juices or iced coffees – and even snacks like overnight oats and hummus – which they could return for a trade value on their next purchase. On double-value days, customers would receive even deeper discounts for returning their jars. For in-house dining, nearly everything at Ashker’s was reusable. Angelo was not pleased to be using plastic products for to-go orders outside of the bottle trade program and was in the midst of launching a deposit-based system for reusable take-out containers before the pandemic. Angelo’s vision is to partner with other local restaurants to create a network of pick-up and return locations for reusable take-out containers throughout Buffalo, casting a wider net for eco-minded customers and further reducing the community’s plastic footprint.
  • The Dapper Goose in Buffalo had already eliminated nearly every single-use item before connecting with us and was actively looking into its last target: straws. 

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