Green Dining Alliance: Restaurants Helping the Environment


Ordinarily, we don’t think too long or too hard about throwing away old leftovers, scraping whatever food is left on our plates into the garbage, or throwing away the now-rotting fruits and vegetables that we didn’t get around to eating earlier in the week. But maybe we should spend a little more time thinking on food waste.

That’s where the Green Dining Alliance (GDA) comes in. St. Louis Earth Day started the organization in 2012 when they observed how much plastic and food waste accumulated at the Earth Day Festival from restaurant vendors.

Wasted food is, of course, not only the product of restaurants. Food is regularly wasted by manufacturers and consumers as well, but restaurants are often a big part of the problem. A 2014 study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance found that restaurants only recycle or donate 15.7 percent of their food waste. Globally, we throw out 1.3 billion tons of food every year, and 40 percent of that waste comes from restaurants.

But Jenn DeRose, the program manager of the GDA, suggests that restaurants are becoming more and more willing to combat the problem: “Chefs, especially at locally-focused restaurants, are extremely interested in reducing food waste and are well versed on this issue.”

The GDA is a restaurant sustainability certification program—a way for restaurants to show customers that they’re green. To earn a GDA certification, restaurants have to pass a number of green checkpoints. They have to ban Styrofoam and #6 plastics, use CFL or LED lights, and recycle their restaurant waste. Plus, the GDA looks to see whether products coming into the restaurant are local, organic, and responsibly raised.

These environmental regulations are an attempt to combat the effect food waste has on climate change. Wasted food generates 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide globally. To put that into perspective, a study from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that if food waste were its own country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases. It would go China, then the United States, then food waste.

Beyond environmental concerns, food waste is also socially consequential. On a global scale, we throw away a third of the food that we grow. That number is difficult to square with the 815 million people who suffer from chronic malnourishment.

More locally, DeRose notes that, in Missouri, one in six children face food insecurity, and she insists, “We need to stop wasting food, and stop letting people—especially kids—go hungry.”

Accordingly, social sustainability is another GDA standard. They ask that their certified restaurants buy Fair Trade and Rain Forest Alliance products or give back to the community—which makes GiftAMeal a very GDA-compatible program.

Americans, on the whole, tend to eat out a lot. Six out of ten Americans eat dinner out at least once a week. So, we need to be thinking about how to make sustainable dining choices. The next time you’re looking for a restaurant, try a GiftAMeal and GDA certified restaurant—and be sure to eat all your leftovers.

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