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Reducing Single-Use Plastics with our Consumers for our Oceans

Environment |  10.2.2018

Over the last fifty years, plastic has taken over the world of consumer products. The lightweight and malleable composition of plastic has provided numerous solutions for consumers and manufacturers. Unfortunately, even the plastic materials that are recyclable are too often discarded, causing a significant impact on the environment. Experts estimate that more than eight million tons of plastics leak into the world’s oceans each year.

Since plastic is virtually indestructible, the pieces accumulate at a more rapid pace than they are able to break down. This leads to plastic outnumbering fish in some areas of our oceans and the formation of floating trash islands in the Pacific. There’s no denying that the issue of plastic pollution is important to both the environment and the people who live within it. Kathy Cacciola, Sr. Director of Environmental Sustainability at Aramark says, “There is a very real need and we feel very strongly that we, as a large food service provider, can play a role in helping make a change.” We recognize that this is an issue that must be addressed, and so do our customers.

Our Commitment

A large portion of plastic waste comes from single-use disposable plastics in the form of convenience products, such as bags, straws and coffee stir sticks that would be common to find in our dining locations. To combat this issue, we’re pledging to drastically reduce use of single-use disposable plastics across our global food service operations, joining the United Nations Environment Programme’s #CleanSeas campaign to reduce single-use plastics by 2022. We cannot ignore that our size and reach provide an opportunity to minimize environmental impact in thousands of locations and communities across the globe and help conserve the health of the world’s oceans.

single use plastics infographic

 Our plan will result in a 60% decrease in plastic straws by 2020—or nearly 100 million fewer straws annually in the United States. 

It’s What our Consumers are Asking For

As information about the negative effects of plastic pollution spreads, more and more consumers are becoming alarmed. The majority of respondents to our recent consumer survey are concerned with the overuse of plastic and are trying to reduce personal consumption by recycling and reusing plastic bottles and bags. Cacciola notes, “The easiest way to make an entry into turning the tides on plastics is by reducing what you’re using—going back to the basics of reduce, reuse, recycle.” Some consumers are even going beyond the reduce, reuse, recycle creed by deciding not to shop or dine at businesses that have not invested in efforts to reduce their impact.


 red solo cup
The major motivator for concern is driven by environmental impact, particularly regarding marine life. Source: Survey of 600 Aramark consumers conducted in June 2018. 

This consumer concern is quickly hurtling toward becoming a consumer expectation, and it’s our duty to work together to show them that we not only share their concern but will put action behind fixing the issue. Companies and organizations everywhere are taking note. Big name corporations and brands are getting on board and have made commitments to cut back. However, Cacciola notes that many recent announcements don't go far enough, “straws are the tip of the proverbial plastic iceberg – they’re one of the most visible products you see, but they represent a very small percentage of plastic waste. At Aramark, we developed a holistic, long-term strategy to not only reduce straws, but to look at other single-use plastics, commit to increasing reusables, to work with our partners and suppliers on product innovation, and to educate and enable consumers.”

How We’re Working Together

To picture the complexity of this issue, Cacciola encourages you to mentally walk through your day and think about all the things you run into that are single-use plastic. “If you multiply that across multiple countries in a food service operation as big and complex as Aramark, you must step back and ask the question of ‘where do you start?’” says Cacciola. Our first challenge is in how integrated single-use plastics are in our world, they’re everywhere. Our second challenge centers around the diversity of places where we operate. Varying geographies, types of services, and consumer needs —all add layers of logistic complexity to solving this issue. 

Some locations simply won’t be able to accommodate a complete removal of single-use disposable plastics, which could be for a number of reasons. “We will always have straws available upon request for people who ask for them,” ensures Cacciola, “While we’re making a significant effort to drastically reduce single-use plastics, we also recognize that there are certain consumers – whether hospital patients, customers with disabilities, or anyone who has a strong personal preference – who may prefer to use a straw.” 

single use plastics infographic

 Our 'Sip Smarter’ campaign alerts customers about the changes, where they can find straws upon request, and ways they can reduce personal consumption of single-use plastics.

We’re working closely with our operational teams to accommodate unique environments and consumer demands to ensure they have an action plan that works for their circumstances, while keeping their consumers in the loop. Our ‘Sip Smarter’ consumer marketing campaign complements operational actions with messaging that helps to minimize plastic consumption. For example, some locations will simply encourage customers to skip the straw, while others will inform consumers that straws are available upon request. At the end of the day, our actions should strike a balance between benefiting the environment and still providing great service to our customers along the way. 

The Path Ahead

Phasing out single-use plastics will help to stop waste before it is generated, supporting our ongoing Green Thread commitment to reduce our environmental impact – echoing that what goes in to and what comes out of our oceans matters to us. Our partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has resulted in our global position on responsible sourcing for wild-caught and farm-raised seafood products, and details our purchasing practices, commitment to reporting, and approach to stakeholder engagement. We work to minimize waste that may end up in our oceans by promoting recycling efforts, and by finding new ways to reduce packaging materials across operations. Our commitment to reduce single-use plastics is a significant component of this effort. 

The most important element of this plan? The future. “Just because we’ll be posting the ‘Sip Smarter’ campaign signs, that doesn’t mean we’re done. Straws and stirrers are just the first thing we are doing. We are actively working to address reusable products and reducing other items within the full scope of single-use plastics like bags and cutlery,” notes Cacciola. “If we were to convert even half of our consumers to reusables such as coffee mugs and cutlery, we could significantly reduce the single-use plastics in those categories. We’re continually looking for new categories and innovative ways to offer alternatives.”

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