Why Pizzerias Need to Make Sustainability a Priority in 2020

A leading expert looks at the top policy trends related to sustainability and foodservice in 2020.

As the sun sets on 2019, many pizzeria owners may be looking back on the whirlwind of change that the industry has experienced this year. Consumers have shown, both with their words and with their dollars, that sustainability needs to be a priority for the modern restaurant business. Even more notably, policymakers are speaking out, too. While many pizzerias are already making strides towards sustainability or zero-waste goals on their own, it is important to keep track of new regulatory requirements as well. Top policy trends to keep on your radar for 2020 focus primarily in the areas of food waste and single-use plastics.

Reducing Food Waste

More than one-third of all food produced in the United States is never consumed. This inefficiency equates to about 60 million tons of wasted food and the lost value of $162 billion. When understanding the concept of food waste, it’s important to recognize that it is more than just the food itself that is wasted; the water, fuel and other resources used to produce the food are also wasted when food goes to waste. That’s why it’s important to use locally sourced pizza ingredients whenever possible. Food waste consumes 21 percent of freshwater, 19 percent of fertilizer, and 18 percent of crop land, according to ReFED, a multi-stakeholder nonprofit aimed at rethinking food waste. If these resources could be more effectively allocated to growing food that would actually be consumed, it could result in lower product costs, promoting a better bottom line. Meanwhile, it could also to help address the 1 in 7 families in the United States experiencing food insecurity.

To tackle the problem of reducing food waste on the federal level, several government agencies have banded together to work towards a solution. The EPA, FDA, and USDA have joined forces to create the Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative, a multi-pronged approach aimed at food waste reduction. Additionally, these bodies are working with ReFED to identify critical innovations, initiatives and policies that may improve the country’s relationship to food waste. The EPA, FDA, and USDA have each committed to helping achieve the target food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030. Throughout 2020, expect to see more organizations taking a stand against food waste on a national level.

Related: Vegetarian pizza recognized as planetary health food

States are also taking the problem of food waste to the court. California has continually led the charge on progressive industry reform. This year, the state legislature passed a law specifically targeting food waste. In its goal to increase landfill diversion by 75 percent by 2020, California’s AB 827 requires restaurants, malls and other businesses that serve food to make recycling and composting bins available to their customers by July 1, 2020. By giving customers the opportunity to make more eco-friendly decisions when eating out, legislators are hoping to make a difference. Maine also signed a provision into law that targets food waste. This new law allows schools to donate their leftover food to farms in the form of feed for pigs, giving their food waste a second life. In 2020, expect to see more state and federal legislative moves such as these to reduce food waste. Many experts are looking for ways to upcycle their food waste and prevent it from sitting in a landfill.

This photo illustrates food waste at its worst
The federal government is looking into new policies to reduce food waste.

Combating Single-Use Plastic

While there are no federal regulations when it comes to single-use plastics, the national culture surrounding single-use plastics has been steadily shifting. Single-use plastics is the umbrella term for all the disposal silverware, straws, shopping bags and other one-time use items, many of which are commonly found in pizzerias. The growing concern is that most of these plastics end up in landfills, oceans and waterways or elsewhere in the environment. Plastics do not biodegrade; instead, they slowly break down into smaller pieces of plastic called microplastics, which can cause harm to the environment.

Related: How pizzerias can reduce plastic waste and still keep customers happy

While some states have chosen to make their recycling programs more robust, others have decided to ban single-use plastics altogether. Thus far, eight states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont – have banned single-use plastic bags, and many more cities have moved towards a fee for every single-use plastic bag used. Vermont has adopted one of the most comprehensive single-use plastics bans in the country, banning shopping bags, straws, drink stirrers and foam food packaging all in a single bill. Pizzeria operators can expect to see these bans become more widespread in 2020 as more states begin to recognize the wastefulness of single-use plastics.

Prepare for New Sustainability Requirements

As new sustainability policies go into effect, pizzerias need to stay ahead of the curve to avoid major changes in workflow, revenues and, ultimately, profits. If your operations require a complete overhaul to remain compliant with changing legislation, right now is the time to address those coming changes. Evaluation, preparation and incremental adjustments can make for a much smoother and effective transition. Pizza restaurant operators should remain abreast of policy changes in the pipeline in their states to be best prepared for the coming year.

Matthew S. Hollis is the co-founder and president of Elytus (www.elytus.com). Elytus is a tech company that helps connect organizations to the best waste hauler in their area, and helps them become more sustainable and eco-friendly in the process. Matthew S. Hollis and Elytus’ employees practice sustainability every day in their zero-waste office – their motto is “Waste Nothing.” Matthew S. Hollis has written and provided commentary for dozens of articles focused on plastic waste, environmental sustainability and food waste, in publications like Nation’s Restaurant News, QSR, American Recycler, Waste Advantage, Green Matters and Environmental Protection Online.