How to implement a closed-loop system in your restaurant

Figure 8 Team
Figure 8 Team Sustainable Food Delivery System, Figure 8 Logistics

This guest blog is from our friends at Figure 8 Logistics, the experts on sustainable and Michelin-worthy delivery. Check them out for more expert opinions and keen insights on closed-loop systems!

We’ve all heard the mantra - Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! This phrase has long been the cornerstone of promoting consumer sustainability. Yet committing to the health of our planet will require businesses - including restaurants - to create a genuinely closed-loop system. The reusable future is here, and taking the first step is easier than you think. So, what is a closed-loop system? Simple: it’s where restaurants take advantage of reusable packaging indefinitely, moving through a supply chain loop and never reaching an endpoint - a landfill in most cases. Sustainable packaging materials make their way back to the restaurant to be used in the same cycle again, and again, and again. 

While sustainability may be trending, the concept of a closed-loop system is ancient. Historically, the world of commerce was built on this system - reusing scarce materials as many times as possible. The classic example is the milkman, who delivered fresh, local milk in glass containers throughout the neighborhood. Each day, customers would place their empty bottles outside only to have them replaced by a new fresh set -- and in the process, never waste the bottles.

However, beginning in the 1960s, advancements in refrigeration and packaging led to our modern open-loop industrial system that focuses on convenience and mass production. While these new materials (often plastic) are technically recyclable, they ultimately create waste through the continuous production and discarding of materials. When coupled with the global shortage of recycling capacity, most of these materials go to landfills, open pits, or even our oceans. As awareness of this problem builds in the public conscience,  we’re starting to shift back to sustainable food packaging that preserves natural resources, decreases waste, and creates more ethical businesses.

Eco-friendly restaurant options

Within food and beverage businesses, operators worldwide are looking for ways to reduce harm while running a good company that serves their guests and our planet. But reducing the 700 billion takeout containers we use each year is a tall order and one that’s only getting taller as guests order more takeout. Changing guest behavior takes a holistic approach, and now is the optimal moment for restaurants to build a more sustainable system. 

To do so, restaurants must adopt sustainable packaging materials as a permanent solution. This one-time switch eliminates waste from single-use paper and plastic and lowers the operating cost of takeout for both the restaurant and the guest. A real example of this ideal system is NYC-based DeliverZero. DeliverZero provides reusable containers to 150+ restaurants for  guest delivery, who then return the containers to the delivery driver on their next order.  

Re-usable packaging for restaurants

So what can you do to reduce and reuse?

To Reduce:

  1. Make single-use packaging “opt-in only” -- where napkins, straws, and condiments are by request only.
  2. For remaining single-use packaging, source materials are taken from biodegradable materials, such as bagasse (sugarcane), bamboo, or wheat straw.

To Reuse:

  1. Sign up with DeliverZero (if you’re in NYC)
  2. Invest in reusable flatware and linen napkins for dine-in service
  3. Note: This may require an investment in a commercial dishwasher and partner with a local linen washing service.

If you’re interested in further exploring the reusable future, here are 99 sustainable steps you can take. But like any journey, the first step is the most important.

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