‘No more plastic straws’, or ‘no more disposable cups’, is becoming more common in the foodservice industry these days, with more emphasis and knowledge about sustainability throughout consumers. However, The Beaver wants to go back about 10 years, when sustainability was seen to have become mainstream in the restaurant industry. Don’t get me wrong, protecting the environment has always been important (especially for us Beavers), but around 2010 sustainability was the new trend the entire foodservice industry was talking about. I believe that we are now on the verge of a great paradigm shift of how the restaurant industry deals with sustainability.
Every great revolution needs a leader. The sustainability revolution is being led by the plastic straw. The UK government, following several UK operators including fast food giants McDonald’s, has committed to reducing and eventually banning the use of single-use plastic straws. Across a plastic-filled ocean, in the US, Seattle will become the largest metropolitan city to ban the single-use plastic straw this summer.
As with any paradigm shift of this scale, timing is key. The industry, population and government all need to be ready to accept and support an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way. Even though plastic item bans had been seen before (plastic bags and so on), the timing of the straw ‘revolution’ seems to be at the right place at the right time.
The change in consumption habits is primarily due to the changing generations. This is also the primary reason why The Beaver believes a big change is imminent. In 2019, give or take two years depending on where your stats come from, millennials will surpass baby boomers. Give it a few more years and millennials will occupy most senior decision-making positions in the restaurant industry and politics, which will greatly accelerate change in the industry.
For better or worse, millennials think in a very different way than past generations. Taking care of the planet is definitely for better and is also very high on their agenda. This will play an instrumental role in how the industry will evolve in the next five years.
We have already seen sustainable initiatives being introduced, but this is not enough – a completely new way of thinking is needed in order to make a sustainable, meaningful impact. The reusable cup is also another interesting concept, but how do you mass scale the reusable cup? Would a sharing economy concept, such as the ones currently revolutionising taxis and office space, transform the restaurant industry?
The Beaver has been around long enough to see sustainability trends grow, but even so it is difficult to guess what the change will be. However, similar to the famous phrase ‘the electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles’, The Beaver believes there will be a real lightbulb moment very soon – the question is what will that look like?