Shake Shack announced this week it is testing the use of biodegradable straws and cutlery at six of its 310 locations, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. Those items are now available at units in West Hollywood and Long Beach in California, Madison Square Park and West Village in NYC, and in Miami, Florida.
Manufactured by a California-based company called Restore Foodware, the utensils and straws are made from polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), also known as AirCarbon. According to Restore parent company Newlight Technologies, PHB is in “almost all known life on Earth, from microorganisms and trees to the human body.” Restore gets its PHB from ocean microorganisms, cultivates it in tanks, then turns it into pellets that can be melted down and shaped into spoons, knives, and other utensils, just like plastic.
Unlike plastic, PHB is biodegradable. Speaking to NRN, Newlight CEO Mark Herrema said the substance breaks down “just like leaves and stems do.”
Newlight launched its first commercial-scale production system for AirCarbon in 2019, and launched products in 2020. At the moment, it is making cutlery and straws under the Restore brand. These items are certified carbon negative by Carbon Trust and SCS Global.
At the moment, Shake Shack does not have a timeline on whether it plans to expand its pilot with Restore’s items to other locations. However, the mere fact that the chain is exploring this option is encouraging for the rest of the industry. The shift towards pickup and delivery orders has amplified the problem of packaging waste for restaurants. At the moment, however, smaller businesses are busy trying to keep their doors open and can’t be expected to champion packaging innovation at the same time.
Bigger brands are in a better position to do so (financially speaking), and recent efforts from the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King, Shake Shack, and others suggest the restaurant biz is now taking its packaging problem seriously.