What Noonan wanted to accomplish from the outset was increase the cultural relevance of reusables—to tell Just Salad’s story and how it all connects with a broader dilemma. In a 2021 report by United Nations Environment Programme, an estimated 931 million tons of food waste was generated in 2019, globally. The U.S. throws away more than any other country in the world, with nearly 80 billion pounds of food wasted per year, an estimated 30-40 percent of the country’s entire food supply.
Nearly 9 million tons of single-use food service items are used every year, too, equivalent to the weight of 25 Empire State Buildings.
Circling the restaurant sector, per the USDA, the industry loses $162 billion annually thanks to wasted food.
Right away, Kenner asked Noonan to help Just Salad along many of these fronts, starting with composting. And it’s only gained over the years. Eco-labeling; a Sustainability Champion program for in-store staff; becoming the first U.S. chain to display carbon labels on its menu.
Before exploring some of Just Salad’s nuanced directives, it’s worth pulling back. Noonan says the chain, and restaurants as a whole, are only scratching the surface on storytelling when it comes to climate. It’s taken years, but the ceiling is nowhere in sight.
Still, the juncture at hand holds promise. One reason being sustainability, reusables, and other environmental topics got buried over the past couple of years by COVID-19. Just for restaurants, the rush to serve off-premises guests—often with single-use plastics—raced ahead on the priority chart. But similar to how consumers tapped comfort food early and have begun to return to health-minded goals, the same is true of watching their environmental impact, Noonan says.
A study from Unilever showed 72 percent of U.S. diners care about how restaurants handle food waste. Forty-seven percent added they’d spend more at restaurants with an active food recovery program.