Achieve Your Green Coffee Shop Goals Part III: Eliminating Plastics

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Incorporating a robust recycling program in your establishment is a great start to achieving "green goals" for your coffeeshop. 

But while you can recycle some plastics, the best option is to not generate plastic waste in the first place. Recycling takes energy of its own, and plastics are not endlessly recyclable—unlike glass and metal which can be recycled over and over. After a few recycles, plastic becomes toxic landfill that leaches into soil and takes thousands of years to decompose—or ends up in waterways, killing marine life.

Some sobering facts:

  • More than 100 million plastic utensils are used by Americans every single day, along with 500 million plastic straws.
  • Water bottles are another huge problem with 50 billion used each year in the U.S. (and a million per minute globally!)
  • 80% to 90% of plastic ends up in a landfill without ever being recycled. And as we said above, it eventually ends up there anyway.

Get in touch with our coffee shop strategy expertsAs a business that caters to demand for quick service or takeout menu items, you are a big part of the solution to plastic waste:

Audit the plastics you purchase and what actually gets used by your customers, from delivery and food preparation to storage and disposal. This includes plastic wrap, utensils, straws, coffee-cup lids, drink stirrers, to-go containers and storage containers.

Find alternatives for things you normally buy in plastic form. Ask some key questions: Is this item (i.e. coffee stirrers) necessary? Is it available in anything other than plastic?


Make purchases that eliminate plastics:

  • Buy in bulk whenever possible (to reduce plastic packaging).
  • Buy packaging-free items if available—or request less packaging from suppliers. Shortening your supply chain can eliminate some packaging as well.
  • Use reusable dishware for on-site dining (cups, plates, bowls, portion cups, cutlery).
  • Get creative with your to-go dishes. Use recycled paper products, or even glass mason jars for salads or soups. Offer a refund if the glass is returned, or an option to pay a deposit.
  • Invest in stainless steel food containers with lids for storing and preparing food.
  • Eliminate unnecessary disposable items, like straws, drink stirrers, toothpicks, and lids for cups, or make them available by request.
  • Provide glass or stainless steel water pitchers.
  • Provide condiments in self-serve, bulk dispensers.
  • Use refillable containers made of glass, ceramic or stainless steel for salt and pepper, sugar, oil and vinegar, hot sauce, etc.
  • Use BPA-free paper for your restaurant receipts, and email receipts if requested.
  • Use butcher, waxed or parchment paper wherever possible instead of plastic wrap.

Once implemented, these plastic-eliminating strategies will become easy. Even second nature. And it won’t just show your respect for the environment, it will save you some money on garbage costs.

Note: If you want to go even further to have a green coffee shop, encourage folks not to use paper to-go cups—which aren’t recyclable and almost always come with a plastic lid.

Check out other posts in this series:

Achieve Your Green Restaurant Goals, Part 1: Perform an Energy Audit

Achieve Your Green Restaurant Goals Part II: From local food to low-flow faucets, it all adds up