Concessions > Serviceware and Paper Products

At many facilities around the country, beverages at concession stands are served in non-recyclable cups. Consider purchasing disposable items that are recyclable and made from recycled content, or alternatives to fossil fuel-derived products such as bio-based compostable options (ideally made from waste-based materials). A recycling or composting program can save money while also improving your organization’s environmental performance.  See the Recycling and Composting sections of this guide for more information about setting up these programs.

Consider asking your organization’s current vendors and suppliers about compostable and recyclable serviceware options. You may also want to consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that will help your organization conduct a waste audit and reduce waste.

Installing and maintaining drinking water fountains can also help reduce the adverse impacts related to the production of plastic bottles, including global warming pollution, other hazardous air emissions, biodiversity loss, water pollution and solid waste impacts.

Concessions Paper Products

When purchasing napkins, paper towels and other paper products for concessions, choose products that contain recycled content.  Environmentally preferable paper products can often be purchased at little or no increase in cost. Consider the following attributes when making paper purchases, and see the Paper Purchasing section of this guide for more information:

  • Highest feasible percentage of post-consumer recycled content
  • Chlorine-free bleaching process
  • Wood fiber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council
  • Mercury-free pulping caustic

Bio-based and Compostable Serviceware

Choosing bio-based/compostable products can be tricky. Look out for the following characteristics:

  • Avoid bioplastic “blends” that include fossil fuel-derived plastics and claim to be biodegradable without further information. Be sure that any product labeled as “bio-based,” “biodegradable,” or “made from renewable materials” is in fact made entirely from bio-based materials (plants or plant residues). Look for ASTM-certified compostable products, and a product description that says “bio-based” and tells what the product is made from.
  • Favor waste-based bioplastic options made from agricultural residues (such as bagasse, which is the residue from sugar cane production, or straw), which are crop residues left over after harvest from an existing agricultural land use and which would otherwise be treated as waste. Corn-based bioplastics like PLA are among the most widely available bioplastics — while these represent a positive first step in the growing market toward finding alternatives to nonrenewable, fossil-fuel-derived plastic, the production of these plastics (and other plastics derived from crops grown intentionally to make bioplastic rather than made from crop residues) raises concerns about agricultural impacts on land use, food production and global warming. These impacts are all significantly reduced by specifying products made from waste-based materials.

Compostable Serviceware Case Studies

In 2005, the McAfee Stadium in the Oakland Coliseum Complex became the first stadium to offer drinks in compostable bioplastic cups. This move keeps hundreds of thousands of cups from going to landfills and prevents the purchase of over three tons of petroleum-based plastic cups each year. Case Study

By introducing a comprehensive waste diversion program aimed at zero waste, the Seattle Mariners have increased the diversion rate at Safeco Field from 12% in 2005, to over 70% in 2010.  By switching to compostable serviceware and packaging, the Mariners were able to improve their waste diversion through an aggressive composting program. As a result, the Mariners saved $72,000 on waste disposal between 2007 and 2010. The Mariners have continued to improve these efforts, averaging an 82% diversion rate between 2010-2011.

The 2011 U.S. Open launched a composting program at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that diverted all food waste, kitchen wastes, and compostable serviceware and napkins from the food court to a compost farm in Connecticut.  52 tons of organic waste were kept out of the landfill, resulting in a 30% reduction in carting costs for the USTA.

Calculate the environmental benefits of recycling

Sample letter to current suppliers

Dear _______,

[Our Organization] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. Because you are one of our food suppliers, we would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to more environmentally responsible products within the next few years.

Our choice of serviceware can have a significant effect on the environment. Much of food serviceware is made from non-renewable fossil fuel-derived plastic whose production process involves several toxic compounds. In addition, many disposable items are not designed with recycling and disposal in mind.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you to ensure that the products we are purchasing do not contribute to these problems.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to pursue this discussion.

Environmental Benefits

The production and disposal of single-use serviceware contributes to a number of environmental impacts. Most plastic is produced from fossil fuel-derived products, which increases our consumption of non-renewable resources. Fossil fuel drilling and exploration can contribute to oil spills and habitat destruction. The paper industry is responsible for the harvesting of countless acres of forest habitat every year and is one of the world’s largest industrial sources of water pollution. By purchasing recycled content, recyclable or bio-based/compostable cups or bottles, and by recycling or composting these products at the end of their use, your organization can help reduce these impacts.

When selecting disposable serviceware products, compostable/bioplastic products might not be the best choice if composting services are not available in your area and this serviceware will end up in a landfill. When compostable items decompose in a landfill, they generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. If composting is not available in your area, consider recycled-content paper-based products or recycled-content plastic products that can be recycled. If your facility does choose compostable/bioplastic serviceware, favor waste-based bioplastics made from agricultural residues like bagasse or straw instead of corn-based plastics or blends that contain petroleum materials.

Additional Resources

Bio-based Distributor List  (give priority to non-petroleum blends and waste-based bioplastics)
EPA – Strategies for Record Setting Waste Reduction
American Recycling Markets, Inc – Recycled Products Guide
World Centric – Biocompostables