Not recycling? Customers want to pitch in

Nearly nine out of 10 consumers are eager to lend restaurants a hand in recycling their trash, according to a sustainability study released at the National Restaurant Association show.

The research, co-sponsored by the association and Georgia-Pacific Professional, found that 85% of quick-service and fast-casual customers are willing to sort their trash to facilitate recycling.

Sixty-four percent of the consumers who participated in the survey said they recycle the packaging from takeout or delivery meals that are eaten at home. Panelists at the session, “A Cup Full of Sustainability,” noted that recycling disposables taken out of a restaurant is a major focus of the industry’s sustainability efforts.

Starbucks’ Clarice Turner stressed that 80% of the 5 billion cups the coffee giant issues per year are taken out of the stores. The company has set a goal of recycling 80% of that 5 billion as the next milestone in reaching 100%, she explained.

She revealed that the chain is three weeks into a pilot program in Chicago to turn cups into napkins and new cups, an initiative already underway in Seattle and parts of New York City. She did not disclose preliminary results, but observed that the installation of separate waste bins for the cups, not customers’ use of them, has been the biggest challenge.

All in all, “customers are clearly willing to participate in restaurant recycling,” noted Chris Moyer, project manager of the NRA’s Conserve: Solutions for Sustainability initiative. Three out of four restaurateurs who participated in the survey say customers are already asking servers if the place recycles.

Fifty-one percent of consumer-respondents said they’d be willing to pay more for a meal from a restaurant that recycles.

 “The average consumer goes out to eat three to five times a week,” said Moyer. “We have a huge potential for assistance in helping restaurants recycle.”

The study revealed that about two-thirds of the nation’s restaurants are already recycling. Of the one-third that don’t, about 20% intend to get involved.

“If there’s one take-away from this information, it’s that recycling is a trend within the restaurant community, not a fad,” said Hudson Riehle,  senior vice president of the NRA’s Research & Knowledge Group. 

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


At Papa Johns, delivery shifts from its own apps to aggregators

The Bottom Line: The pizza delivery chain’s business with companies like Uber Eats and DoorDash is thriving while its own delivery is slowing. But this isn’t the beginning of the end of self-delivery, CEO Rob Lynch says.


How the shift to counter service has changed Steak n Shake's profitability

The Bottom Line: Sardar Biglari, chairman of the chain’s owner Biglari Holdings, details how the addition of kiosks and counter service has transformed restaurants.


Grand Geneva Resort & Spa's 'Ouisconsin' croissants reflect the state's French legacy

Behind the Menu: Hyper-local Wisconsin ingredients and a three-day baking process turn out pastries that are in high demand by hotel guests.


More from our partners