One of the only things that I felt conflicted by when starting a food truck was the amount of waste food trucks produce. We had already considered our carbon footprint, and started looking at how to offset the damage we would be causing with a big diesel engine through the use of solar panels and a low energy system. When looking at existing food trucks the other issue that was quickly apparent to me was the high level of garbage generated by this style of food service. One area I saw a clear opportunity to explore was packaging.
At first I hoped we could break the mould and figure out some way of using standard reusable restaurant plates, cups and glasses. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that this would be a violation of our local food safety code, as all mobile food premises are required to serve products on single use disposable dish-ware. We also liked the idea of serving food on existing waste product from our kitchen- we thought of an ice cream place we had visited which served its coconut ice-cream in a coconut shell. unfortunately, after racking our brains, we realized we were unlikely to be using a sufficient amount of any food with a robust enough by-product to withstand the heat and moisture content of our pasta.
Next, we thought about edible dish-ware. If there was no way around serving each meal on a single, purpose-made container at least we could make that container a part of the meal itself. we thought about the bread bowls used to sell seafood chowder on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Fransisco, however this option was discounted due to time and oven space- there was no way we would be able to make enough bread bowls to sell our pasta in each day in the prep time that we had. we were also very aware that whenever we had seen this product used, it was always still served within an existing disposable bowl, so was unlikely to actually be the solution we were looking for. We found some edible plates and glasses which were being mass produced, but the costs associated with each unit would have forced us to raise our prices far beyond what we had felt would be appropriate.
so, we were left only with the option of standard, single use, disposable packaging. I felt if this was our only option, I was at least going to put as much research as possible into picking the products that were the least harmful to the environment. I already had a good understanding of which materials could be recycled or composted, and knew that it was also important to look into how the materials were produced. prior to opening Amo La Vita I had worked in companies which took their recycling programs extremely seriously and, as someone with a vested interest in the topic, I had strived to learn as much as possible from the experts who had set up and monitored our programs. One key thing I had learnt from working with these programs is that the general public are usually not great at reading signs or packaging. Advancements in technology have allowed companies to replicate almost all existing packaging types out of fully compostable materials, but with the emphasis on recycling in recent years, often these products end up in the wrong stream, and are then likely to either contaminate that stream, or end up in landfill when removed. Similarly, the problem with recyclable products is that most are only recyclable if unsoiled, and many waste management companies will not accept anything other than clean, appropriately sorted bags of recycling.
I decided that to make things as easy as possible for our potential customers I would stick to only fully compostable products. A lot of companies offer ‘biodegradable’ options, but this certification only promises that the product will break down eventually, whereas compostable signifies that this process will occur in less than 4 months. Most commercial recycling facilities do not accept biodegradable materials, so it was key to steer clear of them. I was also interested in the materials used to create the product. I didn’t like the idea of replacing traditional plastic with something that, whilst compostable, would not be sustainable as a long term solution.
We searched the internet for any local companies who might be able to supply us with some sample products. I was lucky enough to find the website of BSI Biodegradable Solutions, an awesome little company operating out of Vancouver, BC. We visited their headquarters and picked up a box of their different compostable options. We are still testing everything that they gave us, and making sure that, as well as picking options that we can support from an ethical standpoint, we are also choosing items that are practical and attractive. We are particularly impressed by BSI’s ‘Bagasse’ packaging- this material is created from the byproducts of sugar production and as well as being fully compostable, it is robust and inexpensive!
We will be bringing you more updates of the success of our waste reduction program once we are up and running. Watch this space.