The Case for Sustainable Restaurants

Author: Zero Waste Volunteers

Before we get to the why’s and how’s of restaurant sustainability, lets get acquainted with some facts. It is estimated that Indians spend 7 to 10 percent of their food expenditures outside their homes in restaurants, cafeterias and other food establishments. A major issue being the disposal of the waste generated from these restaurant facilities. The solid and liquid wastes generated are very high in pollutant levels and cannot be discharged directly into municipal dumping sites or rivers. Some 18,000 tonnes of carbon emissions are generated by food-related road traffic each year, much of it linked to restaurants; 75 per cent of the 600,000 tonnes of glass bottles junked every year by restaurants, cafés, bars, hotels and clubs never gets even close to a recycling plant; and a third of the food ordered by the trade is thrown away (McIvor, 2010).

Based on the seating capacity of a restaurant from 80-200, the waste water generated from the kitchen can range from 1920-4800 litres per day. Restaurant wastewater is the raw sewage which contain high density organic, suspended solids, oil and grease. It has high BOD, COD, suspended solids, oil and grease which pose serious harm to the environment and human health. Talking about solid waste, most foodservice operations throw out a massive amount of garbage, 75% of which is recyclable or compostable, while 50-70% of the weight of a foodservice operation's garbage consists of compostable food items. Food packaging makes up most of the remaining weight of the garbage's bins, but account for around 70% of the volume of foodservice trash.

These statistics paint the need for having better waste management systems in restaurants, encourage eco-friendly and sustainable restaurants and start-ups working towards designing green portfolios for restaurants. So how can a basic restaurant try and be sustainable, and what are its advantages? Let’s take a look.


  • Reduce operating cost
  • Increase employee engagement
  • Attract new customers
  • Risk mitigation
  • Increase community relations
  • Drive innovation
  • Increase in marketing opportunities

Ideas for sustainable restaurant:

  • Managing water, energy and emissions
  • Monitoring energy use
  • Abate energy group
  • Led lighting
  • Energy efficient appliance
  • Motion sensors
  • HVAC upgrades
  • Compact biogas plant
  • Interior and exterior grease traps
  • Low flow nozzles and aerators on sinks
  • Water capture and reuse dishwasher systems
  • Green-house gas calculation services
  • Increase recycling rate
  • Developing employee carpool
  • Hybrid and electrical vehicles
  • Spray rinse

Managing solid waste:

  • Recycled paper for menus printed on both sides
  • Linen or cotton napkins instead of paper towels
  • Cardboard, foil and cloth bags for takeout over plastic containers
  • Going paperless with online orders, billing and reservations
  • Bowls made from coconut shells
  • Bamboo and steel straws
  • Stirrers made from sugarcane waste
  • Biodegradable containers
  • Clay pots for serving
  • Upcycled car tyres for seating arrangement
  • Donate old tableware, kitchen utensils and equipment to a church, school or soup kitchen
  • Discontinue use of any non-essential products like paper place mats, frilly toothpicks and practices like putting two straws in cocktails
  • Have staff distribute disposable items like napkins and plastic forks rather than placing them in self-serve stations
  • Use napkin dispensers that dispense one napkin at a time
  • Invest in nice wood tables
  • Have employees use reusable cups for their own drinks
  • Offer discounts to customers that bring a reusable coffee mug
  • If the customer is disposing of waste, make obvious, easy to understand labels on each bin for "bottles," "cans," "plates and silverware" and "garbage only
  • Zero- mile travelled water in glass bottles
  • Neem cutlery

Managing food waste:

  • Purchase seasonal fruits and vegetables
  • Adopt the concept of organic farming
  • Composting food waste
  • Maintain food audits
  • Use animal bones and vegetable waste for stock
  • Bake stale bread to croutons
  • Less meat = more eco-friendly
  • Promote the use of local supplies like amaranth, millet, ragi, jowar, gluten free rice, local cheese, organic tomatoes.
  • Reuse water to soak pulses
  • Generate liquor from leftover peels
  • Seasonal thalis
  • Reduce portion size
  • Artisanal salts from Himalayan villages
  • Chocolate and honey for Apis Cerona(Uttarakhand)
  • Black rice from West Bengal
  • Avoid overfishing, over foraging and over farming
  • Order in bulk
  • Order from farmers markets
  • Return the packaging to suppliers
  • Develop a recycling program
  • Get in touch with food donation drives in your area

Farm to fork model:

  • Minimising steps from farmer to retail store
  • Direct procurement from producers-wholesale markets and mandis
  • Serving local food at restaurant and cafeterias
  • Reduce emissions
  • Increase sustainable farming
  • Increase quality of soil
  • Reduce the use of pesticides
  • Food traceability-consumer can identify the origin of the food
  • Promote food safety, food freshness, food seasonality, and small-farm economics
  • Restaurants operating on the farm-to-table model reduce pollution by reducing their emissions. The planes, trains, trucks, or boats traditionally needed in the transport of produce are not needed in this model.

While adopting all of these policies may seem difficult at the outset, it is very important for our food industry to try. Formulating zero waste restaurants is close to impossible, but we can take a few measures to contribute to lessening of waste generated by this industry every year. According to statistics, 72% customers are also willing to pay more for sustainable services. With that in mind, adopting these practices can also be good for a restaurant's bottom-line.