Disposables - Napkins, Straws, Coasters, and Other Disposable Items
Quick Navigation To:
- General Tips
- Water Bottles
- Soda Bottles
- Stir Sticks
- Wine/Beer To Go
- Takeout Containers and Bags
- Wooden Liquor Boxes
- Buy in bulk whenever possible - less packaging and shipping waste
- Buy items that come in the least amount of packaging, such as napkins and toilet paper not wrapped in plastic bundles
Plastic straws became the poster child of the sustainability movement for bars. Several municipalities banned disposable plastic straws outright. Others have sought compostable or reusable alternatives.
We should keep in mind, as is covered in the general strategy page, that Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is in order of preference.
The best thing we can do to eliminate straw waste is to use less or no straws.
- Many bars have switched to no straws or straws only upon request.
- Others have switched to non-plastic disposable straws, made from paper or other plant-based materials.
- Other bars have reusable straws made out of metal or other material. These must be cleaned between uses, which can prove a challenge.
- However some people have disabilities that make drinking without a straw difficult, so your bar may choose to keep a small supply of straws on hand in case of request.
- A practical guide to straws (Tin Roof Drink Community)
- At Acorn in Vancouver, they have just 10 glass straws available on request. These must be hand-washed but they find that this is enough for the whole restaurant.
- Julian de Féral did an analysis of plastic straw alternatives in 2018.
Non-Disposable Plastic Straw Recommendations
- "I love the Buswell pyrex reusable straws from Cocktail Kingdom, although the diameter could be a little wider," says Luuk Gerritsen.
Bottles for Still and Sparkling Water - Table Water
- Bottled water has about 1000 times the carbon footprint of tap water, according to the book How Bad Are Bananas.
- Fill glass bottles/carafes with tap/filtered tap water instead.
- Offer Water to Guests rather than bringing it automatically video
- Consider buying a water filtration system if the tap water isn't drinkable.
- Luuk Gerritsen of Kome uses the VERO water system rather than single-use bottles for both still and sparkling water. More info here.
- Stillhouse in Montreal uses an in-house filtration system (Niagralm) for water/soda. It cost about $5000 and uses 20lb CO2 tanks.
- Still Water
- Some bars make specific brands with nice bottles (Bulleit, Tanqueray, St. Germain, etc.) their official water bottles. This could be an opportunity to work with these brands for support.
- Meryll Cawn recommends letting customers pour their own water from bottles, rather than filling/refilling glasses. She finds that people tend to finish water if they pour it themselves.
- Carbonated Water - Consider carbonating in house rather than purchasing bottled carbonated water. See the equipment page for some suggestions. Water can be carbonated:
- To-order via a machine such as are used in offices.
- With a countertop device like a Soda Stream or using cartridges like an iSi whipper
- Some services sell old-time seltzer bottles that are reused/refilled. Examples are Seltzer Sisters in the San Francisco area.
- Off the soda gun
- No soda guns? You can make a "home" carbonation rig. Directions
Bottled Sodas and Alternatives
- Single-serve sodas - cola, root beer, tonic water, lemon-lime soda, etc. create a large amount of waste, even if your city offers recycling. (Remember that reduce, reuse, recycle is in order of preference.)
- Sodas from the soda gun - bag-in-box syrup plus carbonated water in bulk.
- Homemade soda syrups carbonated together with water in a keg.
- Homemade soda syrups plus carbonated water (from a keg or carbonator) added at service.
- House-bottled sodas - syrup plus carbonated water bottled or canned in-house.
- Use less napkins by simply moving them off the bar further away from customers, according to Christina Mae Padilla .
- Try to purchase napkins not wrapped in small plastic bunches, or that use less plastic
- Cloth napkins can be washed and reused.
- Wet-naps are particularly wasteful as they're individually wrapped and the packaging is not recyclable
- Instead of disposable napkins as coasters, choose reusable coasters
- At Water Bear, they still have napkins but find that offering doilies as coasters reduces how many napkins are used.
- Cloth/linen coasters can be washed and reused many times
- Native in Singapore "employs lotus leaves as coasters, which can be used up to 20 times before they get composted." [source]
- At stillife in Montreal they use scrap leather coasters.
- Plastic stir sticks can be reduced or eliminated.
- Biodegradable stir sticks are an option.
- Bars switching to wooden logo swizzle sticks?
- Some thermal paper receipts are coated with BPA plastic. Receipts coated with BPA are not recyclable or compostable, will contaminate recycling.
- Check to see if your paper is BPA thermal paper (there are non-BPA kinds source) and switch to BPA-free paper if possible.
- Some POS systems offer the option to send receipts by email instead, using no paper.
- Some cities allow bars to sell wine and beer to go. Some of those that allow this, allow growler (refillable bottles/jars usually 64 or 32 ounces) programs. These typically belong to customers who can refill the growlers at their convenience.
- If wine can be sold to-go, can you use your wine-on-tap and refill (clean) used bottles from other types of wine? This may not be legal in all jurisdictions.
- According to the book How Bad Are Bananas, for standard bags, a paper bag is a little more carbon intensive than a cheap plastic one. However if the paper bag is recycled and the plastic one is not, the paper one is the better choice.
Menus - Cocktail Menus and Food Menus
The world of menus may soon be changing in the post-coronavirus world, away from reusable menus and toward disposable menus and online menus.
- Online Menus (no-contact)
- Cocktail menus can be hosted on the bar's website for customers to use instead of hard copies.
- To make it easier, this online menu could be accessed by having a QR code printed out/on a coaster at each table that patrons can use their phones to scan. (QR codes are the square UPC codes at which you can point your phone to go to a website; you can use a free service to generate one.)
- These assume that all customers have smartphones with them; perhaps having 1-2 paper copies (perhaps washable ones as in below) would be helpful for accessibility
- Wipe-able Menus
- Paper menus tucked into see-through plastic sleeves may not be every bar's choice aesthetic, but in a pandemic compromises must be made. The advantage of this type of menu is that they can be cleaned between every customer rather than discarded like unprotected paper.
- Menu Boards
- Many bars have one large menu board on display (usually above the bar somewhere) for all to see.
- Some bars have smaller menu boards (on a dry-erase blackboard) that waitstaff can carry around and hold for customers to view - some restaurants do this with their daily specials. This is another no-waste option.
- At (closed) Outrage of Modesty in South Africa, Luke Whearty said, “We recycle all our paper and cardboard by turning it into handmade paper. This is then used for labels and menus.”
- Edible menus! From this story from Drink Magazine Asia: Tour, a bar in Shanghai, takes paper reduction a step further – with edible menus. “It’s made with potato starch, olive oil and water, and the ink is food-safe,” says Tour’s Mack Ross, who offers chocolate peanuts or homemade mint chutney as fillings. “We use a normal printer, but as long as the print heads are clean and haven’t been used for standard ink, it’s fine. You rip off a piece, mix it up and eat it – like a mini menu taco.”
- Recycle your paper menus
- Make seed paper with scrap seeds and old menus [h/t Amanda Thomas]
- The best way to reduce waste of wooden liquor boxes is to order products that don't use them.
- Stefan Huebner of Dot Dot Dot in Charlotte, NC uses liquor bottle boxes to create a diorama for smoked cocktails.
- Many bars store their bitters on the bar top in wooden liquor boxes.
- You can make a birdhouse out of wooden liquor boxes - and maybe even sell them from the bar.
- Offer them or sell them as window boxes for plants - drill a couple holes in the bottom for drainage.