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National Restaurant Association - The rap on foodservice packaging recovery

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The rap on foodservice packaging recovery

JimHannah.jpgPackaging is critical to the foodservice business. In the United States, just 35 percent of recyclable material is actually recycled, which means customers often see branded napkins, cups, or wrappers placed in the garbage, or worse, drifting loose on the street. Starbucks Coffee Co. is one brand that is leading the charge regarding packaging recovery and introducing more sustainable options into the mix. Recently, Jim Hanna, the company's director of environmental affairs, discussed the issue and what it means for restaurant businesses going forward.

What are some of the challenges restaurateurs should know about now?
Right now we're seeing a significant amount of local legislation that could have a negative effect on restaurants. This could be indicative of bigger issues to come. Our point of view on the best way to address this is by taking a proactive and engaged position that allows us to be part of the conversation.

Ultimately, we would like to take packaging from being a liability to becoming an asset for the industry. This is not just about creating a shift in perception, but also making sure there is a set of tools that operators can use in their various communities. We want to work with them and give them the information and case studies on how to create recycling solutions that support reducing operating costs, which in turn, impacts their bottom line.

Buy-in from the recycling community seems to be extraordinarily difficult. Why is that?
What the recycling community needs to see is the demand for an infrastructure at scale. It doesn't make business sense for them to come out and collect the material if it is only for a limited audience. Our hope is that by taking the lead on giving them a reason to build the system in a broad way that others will respond to this and participate so that collectively, we can give them a reason to invest in the infrastructure to process the waste material.

The other challenge is policy. Getting alignment on how we can reach our packaging recovery goals, while at the same time local governments get their needs met for their communities, can be difficult. It is vitally important for us to help local communities see that our industry can lead on these issues in a way that doesn't require strict legislation. The only way we accomplish that is by having these tough conversations and being open to collaborating in the right ways.

What is the best way for the industry to operate on the legislative front?
On the policy front, we've discovered that by proactively engaging with lawmakers (instead of waiting for them to come to us) we've achieved the ability and, frankly, the permission to be a part of the legislative process.

What do you expect see happening over the next year?
I hope for more engagement from the industry and its leaders. It is important for us to engage with policymakers and ensure that the right policies are put into place. We must work together to create both systemic and sustainable change.

Join the NRA for an industry-wideFoodservice Packaging Summit Nov. 7-8 in Austin, Texas. The event, hosted in partnership with the Foodservice Packaging Institute, will bring decision makers and experts to the table to align on proactive solutions to the problems associated with foodservice packaging recovery.

Pictured top, right: Jim Hanna, Starbucks' director of environmental affairs

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