As consumers and legislators focus on packaging at restaurants, it’s more important than ever that restaurateurs consider their options carefully, says Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute. They must choose what makes sense for their businesses and customers. Here’s what she thinks is coming next:
What are some big packaging challenges now?
There is more government intervention in the marketplace, and that is becoming more challenging for foodservice operators. We’re seeing more calls for recyclable and/or compostable packaging, and while we full support the use of those products, we also think businesses have to pay attention to their specific situations. That includes whether customers can recycle or compost those products in their local communities.
Legislatively, we’re seeing more mandates that call for operators to provide recyclable and/or compostable packaging and in-store collection bins for both. That may be challenging, depending on the size of the operation.
What is the thinking on reusables?
Some say it’s better since it reduces waste, but you also have to consider the additional water, electricity, labor and space needed to house it. Then there’s the amount of money you’ll spend on product and the concern that items could be stolen or tossed. Last, if customers are allowed to bring in their own cutlery or cups to a restaurant and they’re not properly cleaned, a safety nightmare could occur. In some cases, restaurants have had to go to health officials to have the local public health regulations amended. Single-use items are more sanitary, and we have the studies to prove it.
What about fluorochemicals in packaging?
While some have raised concerns about the chemicals that can provide oil and water resistance in items like sandwich wrappers and molded fiber containers, the Food and Drug Administration reviewed the extensive testing done on those chemicals and found them to be safe for use. We now have a law in Washington State mandating they can’t be used starting in 2022 if an alternative product is available. Others looking at a ban are California, New York and Rhode Island. This would unnecessarily limit packaging choices.
Let’s talk about straws.
There is growing interest in reducing the use of plastics, and straws have become a target. If you consider why these items have been targeted, it’s because they’ve been improperly disposed of on land and waterways. Studies by Keep America Beautiful show that litter happens because people improperly dispose of their trash. We have to change consumer behavior to stop that.
A lot of restaurants are deciding on their own whether or not to serve straws – and that should be their choice. What we don’t want is more legislation limiting or banning use.
Where is the straw discussion headed?
We will see more bans, and more operators will choose to limit or change their straw usage. We’ll also see more alternatives to meet the evolving needs of foodservice operators.