Last week, San Diego’s city council voted to ban polystyrene food and beverage containers. Some local restaurant owners fought the ban, saying alternative packaging would be too expensive. The city of Encinitas is just up the California coast, and it banned polystyrene back in 2016. At the time, many restaurant owners claimed the ban would put them out of business, but Kris Buchanan, the founder of GOODONYA Organic Eatery in Encinitas, supported it.
At the time, GOODONYA had already been polystyrene- and plastic-free for many years. The restaurant serves all of its food in glass and ceramic dishes. For take-out orders, they use compostable cups and containers instead of disposable plastic or polystyrene. Buchanan wanted to show other business owners how easy it was to make the switch. She says, “We took all the stuff that we use and we went to the city council meetings. We were like, ‘Look, guys. This costs like 10 cents and this costs 8 cents. You’re not going to go out of business. Raise your prices 15 cents. No one will even notice in this community. You’ll make a profit and you’ll be doing the right thing.’” She adds, “Especially here in Southern California, this is what the consumer wants anyway.”
Buchanan has had no trouble finding environmentally-friendly food packaging for her business over the years. She says, “World Centric and Greenware have been around a long time.” She emphasizes that restaurant owners probably won’t even have to change who they buy from. “All of their suppliers now probably have compostables. Almost all of the big guys do. It’s really easy to get.”
When it comes to sustainability, GOODONYA, a certified B Corporation, is ahead of the curve, but Buchanan is still concerned about her business’s impact. She points out that while her entire menu is GMO-free, the compostable take-out containers are made of GMO corn. GOODONYA is located half a block from the Pacific Ocean, and as a surfer, she is concerned about the runoff from crops grown with pesticides. Since even non-GMO crops are often treated with toxic chemicals, she says, “Buying organic food is one of the best things you can do for the environment, in my opinion.”
Seeing all the plastic trash that ends up on the beach has also been a motivating factor. She says, “Once you see it, once you know, you have a hard time contributing to that. As a restaurant owner, I know how much of that stuff I buy. I’m buying 10,000 cups at one time.” She acknowledges that even compostable options aren’t perfect. They often end up in the landfill, because they’re only compostable in a commercial facility, and many cities don’t have commercial composting facilities. Buchanan says, “It’s all about the lesser evils, and trying to get people not to take what they don’t need.”
She offers an example: “When I order take-out and I’m at my home, and I get napkins and to-go ware and all of that crap in the bag, it’s so wasteful. I tell the restaurants, ‘Don’t put any of that in!’” When DoorDash picks up from GOODONYA, she asks if the order is going to a home or an office. If it’s a home, she doesn’t include utensils.
As businesses are increasingly moving away from plastic straws, Buchanan suggests consumers take it one step further by refusing a lid as well. “We have kombucha and cold coffee on tap, and people take it to go and they’re walking around town. You don’t need a lid. You can sip it with your lips like we used to do.” Another way to create less waste? Ordering food “for here” instead of “to go.” She says, “Slow down a little bit, and stop eating in your car.”
Whether she’s speaking to a fellow business owner or a customer about making more sustainable choices, Kris Buchanan has the same advice. “Don’t get overwhelmed and do nothing. Just make one little change at a time.”