Be Seen Being Green

Eco-friendly kitchens are setting the tone

Caring about – and caring for – the environment is much more than a flavour-of-the-month issue. More and more, environmental awareness is a differentiator for diners who want their eatery to reflect their ethos. But commitment to environmental concerns does not have to translate into increased costs or additional workload. Indeed, eco-friendly kitchens can give you both a competitive edge and a creative, mouth-watering menu.


What is compostable?

In 2007, the Bureau de normalisation du Québec introduced a voluntary certification program for compostable bags in Canada. So far, five manufacturers' and distributors' bags have been certified. To be certified, a bag must:

  •  Disintegrate by at least 90% within 84 days of the composting process.
  • Biodegrade by at least 60% or 90% into carbon dioxide, depending on the type of polymer used.
  • Biodegrade within 180 days or 360 days, depending on the test used.
  • Have no ecotoxicological effect greater than 10% on the germination rate of seeds and vegetation biomass rate. It must promote plant growth.
  • For a list of certified products visit

Green is good for business

Going green gets a thumb’s up from customers, and that support generates new business and instills greater loyalty in existing customers. This explains why many high-profile restaurants are making the switch to eco-friendly kitchens. “We all benefit from kitchens being environmentally friendly,” says Rui Paulo, product marketing manager with Inteplast Group - W. Ralston, a waste management firm based in Brampton, Ont. In addition to customer endorsement, employees know their company cares and food service distributors are encouraged to introduce environmentally friendly products. And, of course, a well-fed planet is a healthier place to live and work.

Packaging plus

Unnecessary and environmentally unfriendly packaging takes a toll on the environment. According to National Geographic, there are currently 5.35 trillion pieces of plastic debris alone in the world’s oceans. Of this, 269,000 tonnes are sitting on the surface. When restaurants use products that use less packaging, they reduce the environmental burden. When they use packaging that can be recycled or composted, they reduce that burden even further. They also send an important message, says Sarah Martinez, director of marketing with Eco-Products Inc., a sustainable foodservice packaging company headquartered in Boulder, CO. “When a customer receives their beverage, dish, or leftovers in a package, they are essentially holding a handheld billboard that is a meaningful part of their experience with that kitchen. When that packaging sends an environmental message, the guest can feel good about their purchase and strengthen their affinity for that brand.”

Create an EF kitchen

There are many steps, and many small steps, you can take en route to establishing an eco-friendly kitchen.

  • A great starting point: introduce sustainable products such as certified compostable bags.
  • Recyclable gloves are also recommended. They are less expensive than standard vinyl gloves, 100% recyclable, and because they are thinner, there is less plastic and a higher packaging count, which means less packaging waste, notes Paulo.
  • Energy consumption is also an important issue. Something as simple as filling the sink with water instead of running the taps all day can make an important impact on your utility bill and the environment.

Packaging at both ends of the life cycle

Trying to understanding what constitutes environmentally friendly foodservice packaging can be confusing. Eco-Products suggests looking at both the beginning-of-life and end-of-life impacts. Products made from renewable resources (beginning-of-life) are often commercially compostable, which means they can return to the earth at their end of life, notes Martinez. “Recycling varies community by community, depending on where there are buyers for various materials. It’s best to check locally to see what foodservice items are accepted in the bin.”

What’s new

The demand and support for restaurants to use eco-friendly products, packaging and practices has led to new options for kitchens. Among the latest advances is Eco-Products' Vanguard, a new line of moulded fibre plates and containers made from sugarcane. They’re microwave-friendly and effective in both hot and cold applications. They are also water and grease resistant.

Plants plus

New research published in the journal Science found that plant-based diets can reduce greenhouse and other emissions by up to 73%. Freshwater water loss also falls by a quarter. Perhaps most staggeringly, approximately 3.1 billion hectares (76%) less farmland would be required.

The findings do not come as a surprise to Plant-Based Foods of Canada (PBFC), a new industry organization supporting the regulatory and market interests of companies that make and market vegetarian products similar to traditional animal protein products. "In the next five to 10 years, we are going to see rapid growth in the interest and consumption of plant-based foods. It's happening already,” says Beena Goldenberg, CEO of Hain Celestial Canada. Recent Nielsen data show an 8% increase in sales of meat and dairy alternatives in 2018 over 2017 to more than $3 billion.

Sustainability = success

Environmental sustainability is important to a restaurant’s success, according to a survey conducted by Restaurants Canada. “These survey results indicate that Canada’s foodservice sector is mindful of how sustainability is becoming a necessity for profitability,” says Chris Elliott, Restaurants Canada’s senior economist in Toronto. Among the survey findings:

82% of respondents reported that environmental sustainability is “moderately” to “very” important to the success of their businesses.

98% of foodservice operators said they recycle; 93% use energy- or water-saving equipment; and 77% track, compost or donate leftover food.

92% plan to continue or improve on their current level of environmentally sustainable operations over the next three years.

Rui Paulo

By Donalee Moulton