As the world population grows we can no longer avoid the narrow minded attitude that some of us seem to have, that we can use all the resources we want, creating all of the waste that we want, without making any changes in our habits. Each year Americans throw away about 240 million tons of solid waste. While we are only 5% of the world’s population we create 30% of the world’s waste. These numbers are staggering. To be responsible global citizens we must start to handle our waste better; one way is to simply make less of it in the first place.
What We Waste Much of this American waste comes in the form of food. We can reduce this waste by being more responsible in our grocery shopping and home eating habits. But restaurants have a responsibility there as well, which we will discuss in a moment. A lot of our solid waste also comes in the form of packaging. That small child’s action figure comes in a huge blister pack with wasted cardboard, plastic and instruction sheets; in fact, children’s toys are huge waste creators with all the heavy packaging. Often a concerned consumer is left with only the option to purchase a product that will result in a ton of waste or purchase nothing at all. A company who takes the lead and offers low waste options will be seen as a welcome competitor in a marketplace that places more emphasis on green every day.
The Responsibility of Business When it comes to businesses there is a certain responsibility to reduce waste and to educate consumers. Let’s talk about the first part… reducing waste. Restaurants can reduce waste by ordering more carefully to avoid food spoiling before it can be used. They can also create daily specials that make use of food that is nearing the end of its shelf life. Purchasing local produce can also help as the shorter shipping time can give the product a longer life and thus give the chefs more time to use it.
Companies that manufacture goods need to focus on their own practices, specifically in terms of packaging. Many products today come with packaging that is far larger than the item itself. Selling items in bulk can reduce packing materials in some cases. Designing products to ship with less packing, as home store giant IKEA does, is another great strategy. Amazon.com has recently taken to selling limited packaging products that are both more environmentally friendly and easier for customers to open. For example, many of their computer products (such as flash drives) come in simple envelopes rather than large blister packs.
Making Your Customers Aware Reducing waste involves action and generating awareness. Restaurants can help reduce American waste by offering small portion sizes, finding ways to make taking home – and using – leftovers more appealing, and educating their customers about food waste. Following are a few tips for restaurant managers:
- Provide a variety of portion sizes to suit all appetites. McDonalds learned this long ago and now offers meals in at least three sizes, to fit any appetite. Offer your customers half salads and whole salads, half sandwiches and whole, one pancake or two; by letting them tailor a meal to their appetite you will avoid waste.
- Offer biodegradable or low waste carry out containers.
- Include reheating instructions with leftovers to encourage customers to use them; many pizza places do this, but every restaurant can.
Product suppliers and sellers can also take steps to help their customers reduce waste when purchasing their products. Here are a few ideas:
- Create packaging that produces less waste.
- Develop multi-packs that create less waste.
- Tells customers about your packaging efforts by printing it right on the packaging; consumers love to know that they are helping out the environment.
- Create packaging that is recyclable and tell customers that they can recycle it.
- Offer recycling facilities or work with retailers to recycle your products, particularly electronics.
Changing the Future through Today’s Habits There are a number of ways that companies and consumers alike can reduce waste. Consumers need options. Companies need to provide options. And, companies need to inform consumers, letting them know of the problems that waste is creating, but also how they can be part of the solution through their purchasing choices and their recycling