AS FOODIES BID ADIEU to the Seven Seas Food Festival this month at SeaWorld Orlando, they will have feasted upon plates made from the same material that gently blew in the breeze above their heads: palm trees.
The park’s special event kiosks served thousands of portions of char siu bao and bacon-wrapped sweet plantains on dinnerware made from palm leaves.
“We’re thinking about the future and the next generation,” says SeaWorld Orlando Executive Chef Hector Colon. The sustainable switch comes in tandem with the March announcement that all 12 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment properties ceased using polystyrene foam plates, trays, and bowls, in favor of products made from 100 percent recycled material, including paper plates, at quick-service dining locations.
“Foam never disappears,” Colon says. “Paper will biodegrade.”
In California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium completed simple research when finding alternatives for plastic drinking straws that can be composted.
Lura Migdal, general manager of retail and culinary services at the aquarium with Service Systems Associates (SSA), recalls taking over an executive chef’s office to informally set up dozens of glasses, each holding a beverage served at the attraction. She then dropped in 15 alternative straws from different manufacturers into each cup and recorded what happened over seven days.
“We didn’t want to offer a biodegradable straw that would break in people’s mouths,” Migdal explains. After her test was over, she took the spent straws to Monterey’s regional compost facility to ensure they dissolved.
“We watched which straw broke down the fastest!” Migdal exclaims, adding attractions shouldn’t enter into long-term contracts with suppliers since new innovations regularly come to market.
“That keeps me open to make a change immediately if somebody decides to change their best practices,” Migdal says.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio built its Mapori restaurant to ensure it’s not only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, but also certified by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA).
“The idea came from our board of directors,” recalls Barbara Revard, director of sustainability at the zoo. “They felt there is additional value in telling the sustainability story.”
Mapori—meaning “savanna” in Swahili—features signage in the dining room sharing sustainable elements of construction that used materials suggested by the GRA.
Expansive floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of lions just feet away from diners, along with a menu made from scratch, that adds to the sustainability message.
“Right off the bat, we’re using less plastic that’s associated with prepackaged food,” Revard says, adding scratch cooking also uses fresh ingredients that can be locally sourced.
A renovated food and beverage (F&B) venue opening this spring will also use GRA-suggested materials.
“When our staff comes to you and says, ‘We want to go green,’ you can’t say no!” says Revard.
Looking to Begin?
A number of proven resources already in use at attractions are available to decision-makers when investigating sustainable dinnerware options: