How Restaurants and Diners Can Stay Sustainable Through COVID-19

Waiter handing a bag of take out food

The emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the global urgency of working together to combat climate change. Restaurants are continuing to do their part as much as possible while pivoting to takeout and delivery to stay afloat through the pandemic, with many still managing to practice sustainable habits during these challenging times.

The Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection of the world’s oceans, waves, and beaches, has a restaurant program that works to reduce plastic pollution and provide resources to partners who have pledged to protect oceans through eco-friendly practices. Restaurants that are a part of Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program must meet strict criteria to be recognized, ranging from using proper recycling methods to eliminating the use of plastic bags, straws, and utensils.

Nearly 150 of Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants are on the OpenTable network, with several of these restaurants still offering takeout and delivery. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, read on for some best practices from Surfrider’s member restaurants on staying eco-conscious during the pandemic and beyond.

What diners can do

Order delivery or takeout at an Ocean Friendly Restaurant

Collectively, diners can make a significant impact through sustainable choices when ordering out. Simply by ordering takeout or delivery from a Surfrider-recognized Ocean Friendly Restaurant, diners are already lowering their impact. Join OpenTable in celebrating Earth Day by supporting some of the ocean-friendly restaurant members — here’s a list of which are still open for delivery or takeout across the country.

Limit food and packaging waste

Help restaurants cut down on unnecessary waste by asking for minimal packaging on orders and making sure to properly dispose of food and packaging at home. Request no bag for pick-up orders, decline utensils or condiment packets, and ask for non-plastic cups for drink orders — whenever possible. A conscious effort to limit food waste, by sharing leftovers with others in the household or only ordering what’s needed, can also go a long way.

Try composting

Composting at home helps limit the amount of food waste in landfills and reduces greenhouse gases. Food scraps from a meal, produce trimmings, and even coffee grounds are all compostable. Regular composting at home helps cut down on household trash, and the byproduct can double as a fertilizer for household plants or a garden; alternatively check with local waste removal providers to see if compost pick-up is available.

What restaurants are doing

Eliminating single-use plastics

Sustainability and preserving the earth for future generations remain at the very core of the mission for many of Surfrider’s ocean-friendly restaurants. At The Dorian in San Francisco, a member of the Ocean Friendly Restaurant program, CEO Benson Wang says he and his team are always looking for new ways to “lead by example” when it comes to making sustainable choices.

“Throughout the week we see thousands of people, and there’s potential for a lot of waste — but also the potential for a lot of impact,” Wang says.

Many of these eco-conscious restaurants use paper bags instead of plastic and only provide utensils and straws upon request.

Limiting the use of non-compostable packaging and styrofoam

Compostable or eco-conscious packaging is a recommended step for all of Surfrider’s ocean-friendly members. They don’t use styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene, due to the negative impact it can have on the environment.

With The Dorian moving to takeout and delivery and its use of takeout containers higher than ever, Benson says using compostable materials is an “important” way to reduce the restaurant’s carbon footprint. Since joining the Surfrider program in 2018, The Dorian also takes measures to ensure that the right receptacles are available to encourage staffers to properly dispose of materials.

Keeping tabs on potential food waste

Managing food waste is an increasingly important step as food security has become a major concern during this pandemic. Restaurants are taking initiative by donating unused stocked goods, composting in-house, and finding new ways to repurpose food scraps.

The Dorian takes unused fruit and fruit rinds from its kitchen and dehydrates them to make garnishes for cocktails. Other restaurants take similar measures by ensuring no food goes to waste and is shared between the bar and kitchen.

See the full list of Ocean Friendly Restaurants on OpenTable, and which are still open for takeout or delivery.

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