Sustainability & foodservice: How to reduce your carbon footprint

According to a new report titled “UK Food System GHG Emissions,” the UK food system emits 35% of the entire country’s carbon emissions.

What does that mean?

It means that foodservice operations need to focus on lowering their carbon footprints if they want to appeal to an increasing number of environmentally conscious customers.

It also means that kitchens have many ways to lower their environmental impact and improve their sustainability. Here are a few of the best places to get started.

Offer more meatless menu options

In the UK, consumers are already eating less meat than in previous years. Between 2008 and 2019, daily meat consumption fell by 17g per person. And many individuals and organisations are pushing to lower meat consumption even further.

The bottom line is this: Increasingly more customers want to reduce their meat consumption. And these customers will choose to patronise restaurants that appeal to their preferences.   

So, what’s the good news? Well, restaurants don’t have to look far for inspiration. Whole cuisines—Indian, Mexican, Korean and Mediterranean—lean heavily on meatless ingredients. In many cases, these cuisines are popular with customers already. Modifying dishes from these cooking lineages offers a great way to appeal to conscious consumers while fending off the competition.

For kitchens looking to decrease their carbon footprint and appeal to changing customer preferences, doubling down on meatless options offers a win-win.

In need of further inspiration? Page through Jayme Oliver’s new book Veg for simple recipes you can adapt for your kitchen.  

Cut back on food waste

Beyond any other action, foodservice operations can reduce their carbon footprints by limiting food waste. To accomplish this goal, kitchens can focus on several areas:

  • Prevent ingredients from spoiling
  • Recycle un-eaten food from guests through composting
  • Donate leftover grab-and-go inventory
  • Track prep ingredient waste to reduce it further

Composting, donating or discounting un-touched grab-and-go items using apps like Too Good To Go significantly reduce food waste. But one of the most effective ways to reduce food waste is by implementing an effective food prep labelling system.

NCCO offers a variety of food safety labels and solutions that can nip food waste in the bud—allowing kitchens to save both money and time in the process.

For a more analog approach to prep labelling, DateIt™ Food Rotation Labels work exceptionally well. These labels come in a variety of sizes, shapes and adhesive types. They allow kitchen teams to easily distinguish which bins contain which ingredients, and they include space to record information such as shelf life, expiration date, prep date and so on.

Some of our most popular labels include the 50mm (2″) English Dissolving Shelf Life Label and the 25mm trilingual day-of-the-week labels.

And for a more technical labelling solution, there’s the DateCodeGenie® automated labelling system. Not only does it allow your team to customise and print prep labels, but it also provides access to the Erudus food allergen database—an especially useful tool for complying with Natasha’s Law.

Whether a kitchen chooses DateIt labels or the DateCodeGenie, either option helps reduce food waste while bringing uniformity and simplicity to the food prep labelling system. That’s good news for the environment and the annual budget.

Practice composting

We hear a lot about carbon dioxide. But methane—which food releases while decaying in landfills—warms the planet 80 times more than carbon dioxide.

In 2019, the UK contributed 54 million metric tons of methane to the atmosphere. Naturally, restaurants contributed to that statistic. But they can significantly cut back on that number by advocating for and practicing composting.

Restaurants can start composting by replacing plastic cutlery and food containers with biodegradable alternatives—now widely available throughout the UK. Kitchens can also start compost heaps on site or participate in government composting initiatives.  

While those options offer good places to start, foodservice operations can make an impact that’s many times more powerful than individual actions by lobbying their local governments for widespread compost programs.

If one kitchen practices composting, it makes a small difference. But if every kitchen in restaurants, cafes, schools, hospitals and catering operations participates in a compost program operated by local authorities, the difference increases astronomically.

As pillars of the community, foodservice operations can petition local leaders to emphasize widespread composting programs. Getting involved in this way sends a strong message to conscious consumers—“We share your values, and we’re doing what we can to prove that.”

Close the loop with reusable cups & containers

We’ve all seen pictures of those mountains of rubbish in landfills. And it’s safe to assume that single-use containers, cups and lids make up a respectable portion of those unsightly heaps. 

But what if there existed a way to give guests their morning coffee or tea without the single-use cups and lids? Well, there is a way to do just that.

In the US and the UK, big retailers such as Starbucks and McDonald’s are already piloting reusable cups and lids.

How do these reusable programs work? Like all standard single-use items, customers receive a reusable cup and lid when they order a drink. These reusables look and function the same as single-use items, but they’re a bit sturdier. Once the customer finishes their drink, they can deposit the cup and lid into a sealed collection bin at the store during their next visit.

From there, a third party—such as TerraCycle, the developer of the reusable cup and lid—will collect the returned containers, clean them and redistribute them to the retailers. Again, these cups feel and function like typical single-use containers and can even include bespoke branding and print. But instead of ending up in a landfill, these cups close the loop. And so far, this approach seems to work.

As part of McDonald’s reusable cup pilot program in the UK, customers acquire a reusable Loop cup for a small deposit fee, which they receive back by returning the cup to McDonald’s later on. To Jenny McColloch, McDonald’s VP of Global Sustainability, reusable cups aren’t just a matter of reducing consumption. They’re a way to improve the quality of the customer experience. No matter your thoughts on the environment, every business should be interested in that.

With sustainability & other everyday foodservice challenges, we have solutions

Whether you decide to try all the methods listed above or just a few of them, know that NCCO is here to support you. As a longtime innovator, NCCO offers products—such as our DateIt food prep labels and DateCodeGenie automated labelling system—that can help kitchens directly combat food waste and lower carbon footprints.

For more information on the solutions mentioned above or other everyday foodservice solutions—such as our Green Line piping bag, the first carbon-neutral, disposable piping bag—please contact our sales representatives at

As foodservice challenges continue to evolve, we’re here to assist you in evolving too.


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Starbucks, McDonald’s Direct $10M More to Accelerate Circularity of Foodservice Packaging

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How to Reduce Your Restaurant’s Carbon Footprint

McDonald’s, Loop Partner on Industry-First Cup Return Scheme

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