Decreasing Plastic Waste in Restaurant Systems

Meredith Soward and Tai Verbrugge

Soward PlasticThe only option for plastic takeout containers in Duncan Student Center, which was part of the inspiration for this project initially.

We are studying the supply chain of plastic used by restaurants, including both plastic used directly by consumers (straws, utensils, cups, plastic bags, takeout containers) and plastic that never reaches consumers (such as plastic packaging on food). Plastic has a myriad of benefits, including ease of distribution and the prevention of food waste, and it is widely prevalent in both takeout and sit-down restaurants. However, given that plastic contributes to pollution, climate change, and a variety of health issues, we feel that decreasing its use in the restaurant industry is essential.

Less than 5% of plastic packaging is properly recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills and polluting oceans (Sivan). Plastic production also contributes to climate change, as large amounts of fossil fuels are burned in the process (EPA). Additionally, plastic negatively impacts human health: in a case specific to restaurants, phthalates in plastic takeout containers can leach harmful chemicals into food and water that alter hormone production and increase the risk of diseases such as asthma and ADHD (Yang et. al).

This project is incredibly timely as plastic straw bans are gaining international momentum; however, we would like to go deeper to consider how we can disrupt the entire restaurant plastic industry. Our project has two key components. For the research paper, we will interview owners, managers, employees, and customers at 12 local restaurants  to identify key leverage points where we might be able to create major change in the industry. For our deliverables, we will compile guidelines for decreasing plastic in restaurants and work with local businesses to actually implement these recommendations. We plan to both create a basis for anyone wishing to tackle the restaurant plastic industry as well as create tangible change within the South Bend community.