It’s no secret that waste is increasingly becoming a concern in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Facing the challenge head on, one fast food giant in particular has paved the way to a more eco-friendly future: A&W. In recent years, the famous franchise has become a fast food industry leader by significantly reducing their environmental footprint through their packaging. Here’s how they’ve done it.

The National Zero Waste Council

In 2016, A&W became the first restaurant chain to join the National Zero Waste Council (NZWC). The NZWC was founded in 2013 by Metro Vancouver, in collaboration with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Today, it includes six of Canada’s largest metropolitan areas amongst its members, all united by a single goal: the achievement of zero waste. One of A&W’s contributions to this common objective was to drastically change the way they package their food.

Food packaging goes hand-in-hand with the concept of fast food, and it’s what makes ordering from places like A&W so convenient — you can simply grab your meal and go. However, the extra packaging required for this process has had an undeniable impact on the environment. For instance, single-use food and beverage packaging is one of the major contributors to the estimated 269,000 tonnes of plastic floating in the world’s oceans today. With this in mind, A&W set forth to implement a revolutionary new packaging program, making this industry bigwig a leader in sustainability.

3 Ways A&W is Reducing Waste with its Eco-Friendly Packaging Program

1. Less packaging overall

The less packaging the better

One of the biggest environmentally-friendly changes that A&W made to its packaging involves simply using less of it. For example, they recently introduced a new coffee cup sleeve that uses 20% less material than the previous version. The introduction of the smaller sleeve has had a domino effect, resulting in the company needing to ship 28 fewer pallets per year, thus reducing their carbon footprint. Amazing! And that’s not all that’s changed. A&W has followed in the steps of coffee connoisseurs like Starbucks by producing their coffee sleeves out of recycled materials, which are also entirely compostable!

2. Better packaging alternatives for your food
More sustainable packaging

At A&W, reusable packaging is making a comeback. Gone are the days of paper plates and plastic forks. Now you can expect to have your breakfast served on a ceramic plate, complete with stainless steel cutlery. This simple swap helps to keep 121,000 kilograms of waste out of landfills each year (not to mention that it enhances your dining experience!) Luckily, it’s not only breakfast that has seen a change up. A&W now serves all dine-in orders of their russet thick-cut fries and onion rings in reusable mini fry baskets. These changes alone have reduced another 310,000 kilograms of waste annually.

No time to dine-in? Don’t feel bad: A&W has upgraded their take-away items as well. The company’s grab-and-go packaging, foil burger bags and other paperboard items have all been replaced with compostable or recyclable alternatives. This has eliminated a whopping 170,000 kilograms of waste. In addition, the new burger bags require less carbon to produce, which has substantially decreased A&W’s greenhouse gas emissions (by about 5,000 tonnes!) Suddenly our penchant for burgers has us feeling a little less guilty…

3. Getting real with what you drink

A&W's famous glass mugs

Since 1956, A&W has been serving their famous root beer in frosted glass mugs. Who knew these would be the perfect solution to diminishing paper cup waste? Besides making your drink taste better, it’s estimated that using glass mugs keeps 148,000 kilograms of waste out of landfills annually. Equally as important, more than 4,300 trees are spared from becoming paper cups. The success of the glass mug has even inspired the company to start serving their coffee in ceramic cups, which saves another 1,200 trees per year! These initiatives are proof that one small change can have a major impact.

A Lifelong Commitment

Today, A&W continues to pledge their commitment to a greener fast food industry. Beyond their eco-friendly packaging program, the company is also striving to reduce its energy consumption. In fact, the company received industry-wide recognition for its efforts earlier this year when it won the FortisBC Efficiency in Action Awards for the foodservice category.

What’s next? A&W now holds a seat on the Food Waste Reduction Working Group, a creation of the NZWC. The group is currently in the process of communicating the Food Waste Reduction Strategy, a zero waste initiative based on policy change, innovation and behaviour change. A&W’s involvement in this working group highlights the great strides that the company has made in sustainability, and we’re excited to see what this fast food giant will do next!

Want to learn more about how your restaurant can reduce waste and packaging? Every little bit helps! Below are several resources to get you started:

We will continue this series next month with a look at how A&W is leading the restaurant and hospitality industry in reducing its food waste. In the meantime, check out some of our other recent blog posts!


Author Trish Hudson

Trish is the owner and principal at Holistic Hospitality Solutions. She aims to help assess her clients operations from top to bottom in order to gain efficiencies, save money, and increase their bottom line.

More posts by Trish Hudson

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