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National Restaurant Association - Restaurant guests willing to aid recycling efforts

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Restaurant guests willing to aid recycling efforts

Customers are eager to help restaurants’ recycling efforts, with more than eight of 10 saying they’d be willing to sort trash from their meals into recyclables and non-recyclables.

Two-thirds say they recycle the containers from takeout and delivery meals they eat at home, an encouraging finding for restaurants concerned about what happens to disposables after they leave the restaurant. For instance, 80 percent of the 5 billion cups Starbucks provides every year are carried back to patrons’ homes, cars or offices.

The information came to light during the "Cup Full of Sustainability" education session at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show.  The seminar was one of more than 70 education sessions at the NRA Show.

During the presentation, Starbucks Senior Vice President Clarice Turner shared some of what the coffee giant has learned from a cup-recycling program that it launched three weeks ago in Chicago.

As part of the program, customers are asked to discard trash into separate containers for non-recyclables and various recyclables. Turner said customers had to become accustomed to the new set-up, but were pitching in.

The cup recycling program is in place at selected Starbucks units in New York City and Seattle.

The biggest problem isn’t customer participation, but rather shoehorning separate receptacles for cups into units at an acceptable cost Turner said. Starbucks is determined to keep the program “revenue-neutral,” she noted.

Her comments validated research released during the session. The study, conducted by the NRA and Georgia-Pacific Professional, found that 85 percent of restaurant customers would sort their restaurant trash if recycling receptacles were provided.

Consumers said they’d support recycling efforts with their wallets. Fifty-one percent said they’d pay more for menu items if the restaurant recycled.

The study was based on surveys of restaurants and consumers. Three of four of the canvassed restaurants said their customers asked servers whether the establishment recycled.

 “Customers are clearly willing to participate in restaurant recycling,” noted Chris Moyer, project manager of the NRA’s Conserve: Solutions for Sustainability initiative. 

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

The study revealed that about two-thirds of the nation’s restaurants recycle. Of the one-third that don’t, about 20 percent say they 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 and Knowledge Group.

Read more about the sustainability study.

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