Menus to Bioplastics: ‘Small’ Changes Have Environmental ImpactBy Luis Rodriguez Mastache | Wed, 07/13/2022 - 11:00
It is no secret that the environmental clock is getting closer to its limit. It is a scenario that affects people, communities, cities and all industries on a global scale. The food service industry plays a leading role in this paradigm shift, where issues such as food waste, the need for less aggressive crops as well as the generation of alternatives to disposable packaging and containers are vital conversations.
Hence, a change is necessary in which food production businesses and their subsequent commercialization begin to become not only aware but also take concrete actions aimed at building better scenarios for a sustainable future. After all, the food service sector is responsible for about 25 percent of the CO2 emissions generated worldwide as a result of agricultural activity.
With this in mind, I consider it is essential to talk about some "small" actions that are already underway as the food service industry responds to environmental challenges.
Simple Menu Changes
Shifting consumer demand toward more sustainable food alternatives, such as plant-based, from animal-based foods, which contribute twice the amount of emissions than plant-based foods, is critical to reducing the impacts of climate change and resource use. In this regard, a study by the World Resources Institute revealed that including menu messages related to healthier or vegetarian dishes did influence choice.
A sample message cited in the survey included: “Each one of us can make a positive difference for the planet. Swapping just one meat dish for a plant-based one saves greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the energy used to charge a phone for two years. Your small change can make a big difference.” As a result, there was an increase of up to 25 percent in the preference of these foods by diners compared to menus that did not contain these calls to action in their design.
Before the pandemic, food waste was already the main challenge for the food service sector in Mexico, with almost every five out of 10 businesses highlighting this phenomenon, while each person wastes 53kg of food per year, more than Belize, Colombia and Brazil. And while most of this waste originates in homes, food services contribute a significant 26 percent. This translates into an economic, social and environmental impact.
Some actions to avoid those impacts are planning the purchases of supplies in the correct quantities, promoting food donation campaigns to benefit shelters and canteens, keeping the refrigerator at an adequate temperature (around 5°C), as well as optimizing all kitchen utensils to avoid wasting electrical energy and promote recycling, correct organization and reuse of solid waste.
Bioplastics and Waste Recycling
Another modern Achilles' heel in the world of food service is disposable plastics, packaging and containers. Although in Mexico City, the legislation that prohibits the commercialization, distribution and delivery of single-use plastics derived from petroleum — bags, straws, cutlery — was approved in 2020, the truth is that the use of these materials increased with food delivery during the pandemic.
Here, an innovative alternative is 100 percent biodegradable/compostable products made from avocado pits. Together with the Mexican company Biofase, at Simplot, we created a new and unique polymer using a compound isolated from avocado seeds, recovered from the production of avocado pulp, from two plants in the country. This translates into a benefit for consumers, manufacturers and the Mexican avocado industry, which generates some 300,000 tons of seeds each year.
In addition, and as part of the reduction of organic waste in pursuit of sustainability, we have found a way to generate 0 percent garbage, using potential waste in the production of steel, as well as in the production of avocado oil. This potential waste includes peel and pit, damaged or overripe avocados, those that do not meet with the specifications of size and shape, as well as the pulp that is not used.
Change will not come quickly and, without a doubt, there is still a long way to go. However, these types of action, however "small," are changing the mentality of consumers, while leading food service businesses to adopt more responsible positions in the face of the great environmental agenda that lies ahead, with the future of the entire planet as the main assignment.
Luis Rodríguez Mastache is the Director General of Simplot Mexico and Americas. His strategic role is to direct as well as develop the vision and strategies of the organization in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, to position the brand in all its categories (frozen potatoes, vegetables, fruits, avocado pulp and American snacks) and make them grow profitably, with the challenge of creating a winning culture within a framework of values and promoting the talent of people through it.