by Kayla Harper
Climate change is a looming reality, and with approximately twelve years to make significant changes in our way of life before permanent damage is caused, it is important for restaurants to become responsible climate activists and change their business practices. My short-term focus is on educating local businesses in the Lehigh Valley about ways to become more sustainable, such as switching to LED lighting to reduce energy, opting for paper straws and compostable boxes to limit plastic use, and donating unused food to reduce waste and feed the homeless. While I would like to expand this project in the future, I believe it is important to impact our communities through locally owned businesses before attempting to take on the big guys. Perhaps they’ll take their hosting communities lead.
“If restaurants switched to reusable, recyclable or compostable products, we could see a significant reduction in plastic waste affecting the oceans and surrounding environment.”
Switching to LED lights is cost-effective. (They last about 25 times longer than other bulbs and reduce energy costs dramatically.) Because less power is being used, reduction of toxic fumes released from energy plants into the atmosphere takes place. This protects air quality as well as reduces the effects of climate change. According to Diane MacEachern, Big Green Purse’s founder and CEO, “An LED bulb uses 70Ð90 percent less energy than a standard bulb, limiting the need to burn more coal. [If Americans switched] we would also prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of 550,000 vehicles. They are a great way to fight climate change.” (huffpost.com)
Plastic straws and boxes, Styrofoam cups and containers, and other non-recyclable products have littered not only the streets, but overwhelmingly our oceans. Each year, plastics kill approximately 100,000 marine creatures. Microplastics in the ocean are also harming us. It was found that every sea creature has consumed microplastics, and when we consume them, we in turn eat those plastic particles. Studies on the effects to human health have not been conclusive, but when fed to mice in a laboratory study, it was found that they “accumulated in the liver, kidneys and intestines, and increased levels of oxidative stress molecules in the liver. They also increased the level of a molecule that may be toxic to the brain (healthline.com).” If restaurants switched to reusable, recyclable or compostable products, we could see a significant reduction in plastic waste affecting the oceans and surrounding environment.
Food waste in restaurants is staggeringly high, with approximately 85% of unused American food being thrown out and ending up in landfills. (moveforhunger.org) This unnecessary waste could be composted, donated to the hungry, fed to farm animals or by taking the ingredients and making them into another product for sale. Composting is great for the environment because it not only reduces the output of methane in landfills, it also eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers as well as promoting higher yields for crops. There are many other environmental benefits of composting, like aiding in reforestation and wetlands restoration, remediating soil contaminated by hazardous waste, enhancing water retention in soil and providing carbon sequestration. (www.epa.gov) Food waste composting needs to be promoted in the Lehigh Valley, since most composting facilities, other than American Biosoils, do not accept food waste.
While I have listed a few things that would promote the practices and facilities of restaurants, I have not dealt here with the food itself, which needs further exploration.
by Kayla Harper
Kayla is a senior at Kutztown
interning with the Alliance for her last semester.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)
As part of her internship, Kayla started compiling a list of restaurants with sustainable practices. We expect this list to expand in the future!