Food waste has persisted as a global problem that many companies are trying to find solutions for. Upcycled foods and waste reduction are two industries that have formed to combat excess food waste, but 1.4 billion tons still gets tossed every year, the majority of which is at home or at restaurants.
On the restaurant end, there’s a large network of connected local restaurants called Too Good To Go that’s striving to make a massive impact on rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste.
Consumers can tap into this network via the Too Good To Go app, which allows them to reserve “Surprise Bags” from spots around them that are in the system for $5-$6. What you get in return is approximately $15 worth of food that the restaurant would have otherwise thrown out.
Overall, the restaurant wins by making a little extra money off of food they would’ve lost, you get to score on a massive discount for some food, and Too Good To Go profits slightly off of the cost of the bag. Pretty much, everybody benefits, including the planet, as food waste is cut and helps lower waste and resulting greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s not just restaurants that you can get food from, however, as Too Good To Go partners with restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets, and hotels. Currently, they’re linked with 75,000 different spots worldwide.
Too Good To Go, founded in 2016, is currently in the midst of a massive push to expand globally. They’ve recently made a debut in San Francisco, and can also be seen in New York City, Chicago, Austin, and other metropolises worldwide.
It’s one of the biggest ways to fight against food waste, and it pretty much works the same for a customer as a food delivery app would. Sure, there’s a lot more we can do at home to combat food waste too, but this is a pretty convenient way to get started.
Within the US, over half of the population drinks coffee. That’s 150 million people getting their caffeine fix, and typically at a three cup per day average. Additionally, single-use coffee pods have become a popular choice for caf-fiends with 41% of Americans owning a single-cup coffee maker.
Great for productivity, but not so awesome for our environment, over 50 billion paper cups are thrown away within the U.S. each year. It’s even said that discarded coffee pods, which are made of aluminum and plastic, could circle the entire globe a staggering 10 times. Despite this level of massive waste, coffee popularity shows no signs of slowing down.
To help combat coffee consumption waste, forward-thinking company NEXE Innovations has created the world’s first compostable single-use coffee pods. Founded in 2015, NEXE Innovations uses 3D-printing to design, prototype and patent the pods, offering a sustainable option for eco-conscious coffee lovers. The idea came through a desire to replace non-biodegradable plastic. Spending six years in development, the company is now a leader in plant-based manufacturing. Their first commercial product is aptly-named the NEXEpod.
“Through continued trial and error, we have developed a pod that can consistently withstand the heat and pressure of a Keurig coffee brewing system while also being plant-based, fully compostable and still provides the freshness and great taste that our consumers expect from a good cup of coffee. To be able to provide these qualities and do so in batches of thousands of pods at a time has been a very difficult process and a definite engineering feat,” says Ash Guglani, President of NEXE Innovations.
The company currently uses 3D-printing technology to quickly design the NEXEpods, moving from design to concept in under a day. They now have most of the necessary equipment to produce over 230 million of the bamboo and corn based pods per year.
Introduced earlier this year, XOMA Superfoods is the company’s in-house coffee and superfoods brand. Created as a vehicle to deliver high quality coffee and superfoods to market, XOMA also helps to ensure NEXE adheres to their sustainability goals. The first product offered was a soluble micro-ground coffee blend fortified in MCT-oil and packaged in the NEXEpod. Since then, they’ve expanded to offer additional options like their Keto and Mushroom coffees, each of which can be ordered online.
Moving forward, NEXE Innovations plans to continue expanding their proprietary coffee and superfoods lines into conscious coffee consumers. Only available on their website and Amazon currently, the company hopes to achieve Amazon Prime status soon. They’re also in talks with various other online platforms that cater to plant-based and coffee enthusiasts.
Each year, the European Commission designates one city as the “Green Capital of Europe” in recognition of their efforts towards sustainability. 2021’s Green Capital is Lahti, Finland, where 99% of the town’s household waste is already repurposed.
To show just how far you can go to reutilize waste to make other things, Lahti brewery Ant Brew has created a line of “Wasted Potential” summer craft brews that all use waste, ranging from fruit pulps to goose poop.
The goose poop won’t actually go into the beer (although the fruit pulp will), but is instead being used in a food-safe way to smoke the malt used to make one of Ant Brew’s waste-inspired beers. That particular stout will help local parks get cleaner by removing goose droppings from the premises.
Also in the lineup is a witbier that is brewed with orange peels from a local market’s juice pressing station, imbued with fruit purees just past their best by date but still great as an ingredient for beer.
Other ingredients that will be used in the Wasted Potential Beers include roadside weeds, wild herbs, and mosses.
While only Finnish folk will be able to drink this beer once it’s released for the summer, the entire world can take a lesson from what Ant Brew and Lahti are doing in the brewing realm.
The biggest takeaway here is that if you really put your mind to it and get creative, virtually any waste can be repurposed to make something unique and useable.
Here in the states, when you think of Tasmania, you’re probably more likely to be reminded of a cartoon character rather than the actual place. Even more odd, the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character was named after an actual animal that looks completely different. It makes you wonder how much we really know about Tasmania.
Did you know that it’s the world’s 26th largest island? Tasmania also has some of the cleanest air in the world which helps produce pristine rainwater and super fertile soil. And in addition to devils, Tasmania is rich with a wide assortment of native animal and plant species, familiar and unfamiliar. Also, products from Tasmania benefit from a culture and industry that’s rooted in environmental sustainability, quality control and strict biosecurity.
Experience Tasmania is a campaign that was created to highlight the unique treasures Tasmania has to offer the food and beverage world. Presented with a challenge during the pandemic, the state was forced to think of a new way to trade and export. Through Experience Tasmania, a network of potential customers and top chefs were able to enjoy some of the Australian state’s leading producers and produce. This has helped a growing appreciation towards Tasmanian gourmet products.
Already world renowned for its meat, seafood and dairy, in recent years, the demand for Tasmanian products has expanded to include wine, liquor and produce. This has further solidified the island state’s reputation for quality. A strong demand for Tasmanian imports held fast even during the covid-19 crisis. Besides the novelty of trying imported foods, another attractive quality is that all Tasmanian products are GMO free and do not use hormone probitants or antibiotics to encourage artificial growth.
If you’re into quality meats, Cape Grim Beef comes from one of the purest environments for raising grass-fed cattle. They have a collective of beef-farmers that are committed to ethical practices and even have a third-party auditor to ensure top quality.
Champagne lovers will no doubt enjoy Jansz Tasmania, respectfully distinguished as “sparkling wine”. Considered a pioneer in luxury sparkling wine, Jansz is handcrafted and originates from the heart of Pipers River in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley.
Speaking of wine, it’s only right that I mention King Island Dairy, one of Australia’s favorite cheese brands. King Island is located in Bass Strait, between Tasmania and mainland Australia. They have award winning cheese that’s sourced from a handful of local farmers, really a perfect wine compliment.
Another quality product is considered the “Wagyu of the Sea” due to its juicy marbling. The ocean trout from Petuna, Tasmania’s leading fishery, is one of many quality fishes offered. The fishery has been around for 70 years, practices sustainable aquaculture, and maintains its commitment to respecting the longevity of the natural environment.
As the world gradually returns to normal, it will be interesting to see more people become further exposed to Tasmania’s food frontier and culture. These products and more are increasingly available from local US distributors, retailers, and restaurants around the nation.
If you’re a commercial buyer or distributor and interested in Tasmanian products, you can contact Trade Tasmania directly to get your hands on some.
For years, we’ve been getting teasers of what lab-grown meat could look like, with videos and commentary on cell-cultured meatballs, fried chicken, and more promising a future where meat could be made without killing animals.
That future could take a monumental step forward this year, as Memphis Meats, which just changed its name to Upside Foods, announced that it plans to debut a cell-cultured chicken in the USA by the end of 2021.
Upside’s product, called Upside Chicken, is made by taking a sample of chicken cells and placing it in a nutrient-rich environment. The cells have everything they need to grow on their own and develop into chicken meat.
Claims that Upside makes about this chicken is that it could have a massive impact from a sustainability point, and also limits bacterial contamination since the meat is “cultivated in a clean facility from cell to harvest.” The company is also working with the USDA and the FDA to ensure quality standards of production are met.
Similar to a plant-based meat purveyor like Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat, Upside’s goal is to limit the environmental impact of modern meat production. Instead of taking out meat entirely, however, Upside is using a slaughter-free method that makes the exact same chicken we all know and readily consume.
Pending regulatory approval, Upside plans to launch their chicken product by the end of the year, although no official launch date has been confirmed as of yet. Upside has confirmed to Foodbeast, however, that the plan is to debut their cultured meat in restaurants first.
What we do know, however, is that previous studies have shown that at least a third of Americans are open to trying the product, meaning there is a market and a possibility that cultured meat weaves itself into the future of how we produce and eat meat.
While Taco Bell has some upcoming plans with Beyond Meat, that hasn’t stopped them from trying to make their own plant-based proteins.
Through April 29th, the chain is testing a “Cravetarian” ground beef substitute that’s made from a blend of pea and chickpea protein. It’s served up just like a classic Taco Supreme, with sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese.
According to a release from Taco Bell, this taco contains 10 less calories than a standard Taco Supreme (180 vs 190), but no other nutritional or sustainability benefits are noted. Since this is just a test, were this to go nationwide, we would be likely to get more specific info.
Taco Bell has dabbled in proprietary plant-based substitutes in the past, including an “Oatrageous Taco” in parts of Europe. However, this represents part of a broader initiative where the chain is going all in on having more sustainable options.
Foodbeast was able to try the Cravetarian Taco ahead of its test launch, and found it difficult to differentiate from a standard Supreme Taco. Flavor and texture wise, things are there, and the spices do a decent job of masking any potential taste that the pea or chickpea might provide. Overall, it’s a solid option for vegetarians and non-vegetarians that’s meant as more of an environmental statement than a health food.
Taco Bell’s Cravetarian Taco will be available through April 29th at a single location (14042 Red Hill Avenue, Tustin, California) in Orange County. The individual taco costs $2.19, but you can also swap it into other items for no extra cost.
In one of its biggest efforts to date to be more climate-friendly, Taco Bell has found a way to make all of its sauce packets recyclable. This could potentially take billions of pieces of plastic out of landfills annually.
For context, Taco Bell claims that 8.2 billion sauce packets are used in the United States each year. All of these pieces of plastic are currently not recyclable, and the taco titan doesn’t plan on switching materials.
However, a new partnership with recycling company TerraCycle will help convert the sauce packets. TerraCycle, which runs the Loop recycling service many global brands subscribe to, specializes in taking materials that normally aren’t recyclable and converting them into hard plastic.
Taco Bell and TerraCycle will launch the pilot program for their sauce packets later this year, and consumers will be able to participate in a yet-to-be announced method that will include free shipping. The hope is that this will help convert all of the chain’s sauce packet plastic waste by 2025, a long-term goal for Taco Bell.
One of the biggest things that has to change for the world to be able to feed 9 billion people by 2050 is our food systems. Many produce food at unsustainable rates that don’t give back to the environment or allow things to regrow and populations to recover.
While eating in such a climate-friendly way is oftentimes expensive, many fast food chains are contributing to the cause by altering how they source their food, plastics, and energy. It’s a key step in helping change our food systems, since chains affect massive swaths of the food supply while feeding millions of people.
Sure, fast food isn’t what you would think of as completely “climate-friendly,” but many chains have made some big efforts in making their systems more sustainable. The ten chains on this list have done the most in that regard compared to other fast food giants.
When looking at what chains would make this list, we looked at the efforts they’ve made in providing sustainable food options, reducing waste and plastic usage, and overall conservation efforts for energy, water, and other resources needed to run a restaurant empire. Any support given to farming and conservation efforts that aim to make the food chain sustainable are also a big plus.
“Clean label” was not a factor considered, although many may link it to a chain that’s more environmentally friendly. “Clean label” has more to do with ingredients than it does with sustainability, and not all “clean label” chains make equitable efforts when it comes to the environment. If they do, however, chances are they’ll show up on here!
White Castle was one of the first major fast food chains to add any plant-based meat alternatives, incorporating Impossible Foods into their arsenal in 2018. That’s not the only change they’ve been making to their food, however: they ensure that their fish is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable, they recycle some of their cooking oil for biodiesel fuel, and use post-consumer recyclables to make their packaging. This includes items like the Crave Cases, which are made using recyclable materials.
The OG burger chain also has a commitment to drop their emissions by at least one percent every year. While they’re not posting regular reports about their sustainability efforts, they are transparent about the steps they are taking to improve their food system, and have a couple of sustainable meal options.
Taco Bell makes it onto the bottom part of this list for a couple of reasons: they have a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options for those looking to avoid more meat (a climate resource-heavy protein), and they commit to using sustainable palm oil in their food. Most of their packaging is also recyclable, reusable, or compostable, and all of it will be by 2025.
On that alone, they probably would have not made this list. However, their earlier announcement that they were beginning to test Beyond Meat products in 2021 means that one of the world’s largest fast food giants is making a serious effort to look at alternatives to ground beef, and that deserves inclusion for the impact this 7,000-plus location giant can have on the industry.
While Subway often doesn’t make the conversation as a ground-breaking chain, they do have a lot of efforts in place when it comes to being climate-friendly. They’ve developed ECO restaurants, use packaging that’s all recyclable or compostable, and have begun piloting energy conservation and food composting/waste diversion programs.
The sandwich empire also sources ingredients from suppliers that practice environmental stewardship and eco-friendly farming, according to their website. A lot of this is dependent on different franchisees taking these steps themselves, although it is being fostered into the larger company culture.
When it comes to packaging and sourcing, Starbucks is definitely a global leader in being climate-friendly. They’ve already taken plastic straws out of their restaurants, made their cups recyclable, and are striving to halve their emission, waste, and water usage by 2030.
The coffee titan also sources 99% of its coffee through “ethical practices,” although it should be noted that these are internal ethical standards, and have been shown to be weaker in practice than they are on paper, especially when it comes to establishing minimum coffee prices and preventing slave labor. They are one of the largest purchasers of externally certified “Fair Trade” coffee, to be fair, but they are also the world’s biggest coffee company. That should be expected.
Starbucks has also dipped its toes into the plant-based meat game, introducing an Impossible Breakfast Sandwich to their menu. They’re also looking at bringing oat milk nationwide, and already have soy and almond milk as dairy-free alternatives.
This is the first chain on this list that doesn’t have a dedicated plant-based meat offering either available or in the works, though their vegetarian Shroom Shack should not be slept on. However, Shake Shack does have an extensive animal welfare program set up that their suppliers follow, and have committed to updating their progress annually via third-party audits.
Shake Shack also goes a step above other spots by using biodegradable straws and cups (for beers and shakes), building their locations with eco-friendly materials, and using sustainable power options like wind and renewable energy. They also invest in composting and recycling cooking oil to be used for biodiesel fuel.
As the Shake Shack empire continues to grow, so will their mission of spreading climate-friendly food, environments, and structures. If they had some true plant-based alternatives to their burgers, they would definitely be higher on this list.
People normally don’t think about IKEA as a food chain. Between its wide spread of cafes and food courts, however, it classifies as the world’s sixth largest, an astounding number.
While they’re known for cheap prices and accessibility, IKEA also is taking massive steps forward when it comes to being climate-friendly. Here we’re just focusing on the food aspect, which is still pretty big: they’ve launched plant-based and salmon meatballs as more sustainable alternatives to their traditional and iconic beef version.
IKEA also has ambitious plans to improve their entire food supply chain by 2030. This includes reducing food waste, sourcing from sustainable sources, making healthier food, and promoting animal welfare. The first of their programs from this “Better Food Programme,” focused on chicken, launched in 2018.
Having one of the world’s largest food chains making such huge commitments is amazing. As those commitments are reached, it will almost certainly climb up on this list to compare with those who have taken huge steps already.
Surprised? So were we, to be honest. Jimmy John’s and its 2,000 locations do a lot of amazing environmental work behind the scenes, but are public about the commitments they make on their site. This includes listing their suppliers on their website, as well as talking about the environmental commitments each of those suppliers have made.
Jimmy John’s also has their own commitments that they practice, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. They also support improved environmental practices for raising meat on over 2 million acres of land, and target suppliers that use recyclable materials, energy, water, or all of the above.
The sandwich chain also uses plenty of recyclable materials in its packaging. All of these are practices that have been in place since the company started in 1983, according to the website, so it’s deeply embedded in the company’s culture. They may not have plant-based meat offerings, but as sandwich chains go, these guys are doing great on the climate-friendly front.
When we talk about fast food giants taking huge steps to be more climate-friendly, none have taken bigger and further steps than McDonald’s. Across all fronts, they are working to improve their food system, from sustainable agriculture to recycling and energy conservation.
For their food, they’ve switched over their Filet-o-Fish sandwiches to all be Marine Stewardship Council certified for sustainability. They’ve been growing their lineup of ranchers to be more sustainable, use 100% sustainable espresso beans for their coffee, and follow United Nations guidelines when it comes to evaluating and implementing research in those fields. They’ve also tested many plant-based meat options globally, and we could finally see one hit US stores nationwide soon in the “McPlant” lineup.
McDonald’s is also one of two fast food titans that have joined the NextGen Cup challenge to find a renewable solution for one of their largest pieces of waste (Starbucks has also joined). They also have extensive commitments and goals to minimize water, plastic, and energy usage, all of which can be viewed and evaluated on their corporate website.
One of the chain’s biggest accomplishments in the climate-friendly space is creating a “Net Zero Energy” restaurant, which opened in 2020 at Disney World. It creates enough renewable energy to cover 100% of its needs annually, and is being used as a research hub to test solutions for locations nationwide to reduce energy and water use. These include photovoltaic panels, solar-powered lights, and even bikes that generate electricity.
The fish taco specialist is one of the top chains in the world when it comes to sustainability. This is because nearly every option on its menu is already meeting, or close to meeting, goals when it comes to being climate-friendly.
Just about every seafood option on Rubio’s menu is certified as “Responsibly Managed” according to a third-party certification from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the company displays as such on their website. This includes limited-time offerings like Langostino Lobster, an impressive feat. The only seafood to not be on that list is mahi mahi, and Rubio’s suppliers are working now to reach that certification.
Rubio’s also emphasizes local sourcing for its other ingredients, like tortillas, and even has plant-based options from Impossible Foods on its menu.
On top of its ingredient sourcing, Rubio’s also uses compostable and biodegradable takeout containers and napkins, meaning that its primary uses of packaging can go back into the earth and be reused. It also obtains third party certifications for its cups and paper menus to ensure they are recyclable as well, a huge plus.
Rubio’s gets close to the top for all of the remarkable efforts this chain is making, which are arguably the most of any restaurant empire on this list. Despite all of these efforts and transparency, however, there is one company that does more.
In the world of climate-friendly and sustainable food efforts, no chain is more thorough and transparent than Chipotle. They’re not just looking at the overall climate footprint picture, they have a tracker that shows how much environmental impact is reduced in each digital order. They’ve also begun to release annual climate reports that don’t just show targeted metrics: they’re transparent about whether those goals have been currently met, exceeded, or if they’re still behind on them.
Chipotle has plant-based options that have long been on the menu, like Sofritas or their veggie bowl option. However, they’re also willing to remove options if they’re not up to par, like when Carnitas was temporarily taken off the menu after it was discovered that some pork suppliers had animal welfare problems.
In terms of waste, the chain also goes above and beyond there. They have a program that donates used equipment and furniture (ie. grills and food processors) to local schools and nonprofits, and even has a Harvest Program that generates meals from leftovers that get donated to local communities. It also has set up composting in close to a fifth of its restaurants.
Overall, Chipotle is the most climate-friendly fast food chain out there because it is taking the most steps to improve environmentally andis also the most transparent and open about it. They openly market environmental sustainability to the point where you can track it online orders, promoting a future of food that is better for the environment and the planet. What other major fast food players can say that?