If you’ve ordered a drink at a restaurant or bar lately, there’s a good chance it was missing something you might have been expecting — a straw. The shift away from plastic straws has been spreading around the world at an incredible pace, including across Canada, where a number of foodservice businesses are replacing plastic straws with a paper alternative for customers who request one.

Helping their patrons cut down on waste from straws and other single-use items is just one way that restaurants and other foodservice businesses are reducing their environmental footprint. Nine out of 10 respondents to the most recent quarterly Restaurant Outlook Survey from Restaurants Canada said they plan to continue or increase their current level of environmentally sustainable operations over the next three years. (In related news, “single-use” was just named the Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2018, following a four-fold increase in usage of this term since 2013,  a reflection of the global community’s growing concerns around sustainability.)

While most foodservice businesses understand that placing environmental sustainability at the forefront of their operations is becoming an increasing necessity for profitability, many are still struggling with implementing changes. Sustainable alternatives exist for many single-use plastic products, especially for in-house dining, but widespread confusion persists around best practices.
Below is a walkthrough of what you need to know if your foodservice business is looking for solutions for replacing plastic straws or other single-use items.


Are “compostable” alternatives the answer?

Many restaurants are turning to compostable, plant-based alternatives to plastic. But what most foodservice operators do not realize about these products is that regardless of whatever “green” term they are marketed with, they won’t help the environment if the proper disposal methods are not used.

Any product that looks like plastic and feels like plastic most likely needs to be taken to a specialized industrial composting facility to be disposed of properly — and most of the time this is not what happens.

Many biodegradable plastics marketed as “compostable” are not accepted in municipal organic waste programs and just end up in a landfill where they usually do not have the conditions they need to break down. If your municipality does not have facilities capable of processing products made of biodegradable plastic, they will end up in the waste stream where they will contribute to plastic pollution. To make matters worse, compostable plastics are not recyclable, as they can contaminate other plastics.

If switching to biodegradable plastic has crossed your mind, check out these pointers for assessing whether it will be worth the time, effort and cost for your business.


What’s a well-intentioned business owner to do?

While consumers are growing increasingly concerned over the environmental impacts of their dining habits, most still expect convenience. Helping them shift away from using disposable products is a challenge, but these tips can help restaurants and other foodservice businesses take some steps in a more environmentally sustainable direction:

  • Switch to reusable items whenever possible. If your customers are dining in-house, you can eliminate all disposable single-use plastics by offering reusable alternatives.
  • When disposable items are needed, look for truly compostable products — the ones that are paper- or fibre-based. These often have a more natural look and feel, and will break down in a simple backyard composter.
  • Get to know your local waste disposal facilities and programs. Find out which products can be composted by your municipality and what your business needs to do to ensure they end up in the right place.


Has your business implemented an innovative solution to reduce your environmental impact?

Share your story with LEAF and Restaurants Canada and your business could be recognized with The Eco-Innovator award at the upcoming RC Show on Feb. 26, 2019.

The Eco-Innovator award recognizes one restaurateur each year for implementing a new technology or innovative solution that has made a significant environmental impact.


Click here to submit an application today!
Deadline for submission: 11:59pm EST on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.

Restaurant Tips: Replacing Plastic Straws and Other Single-Use Items


President of the Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice. L.E.A.F. is a National non profit organization helping those in the foodservice industry to realize their sustainability potential & recognizing them for doing so. For more information: www.leafme.org