Everyday we wake up to more news about dead whales and other sea animals being washed upon the shore stuffed with plastic waste and trash that humans dumped. It is hard to ignore these news. Fashion leaders, creative designers, leading politicians and even young children started to draw public attention on how we can make a change to our current lifestyle. These short-sighted inventions that we human beings have created over the past decades to make everything easier, simpler, faster are now the cause to the destruction to what nature has created over centuries.

So can small businesses like a cafe or restaurant make a change and create a positive impact too? The answer is yes. Do the simple math yourself. Count the number of cafes and restaurants there are in every town and city. If one restaurant dumps 3 bags of 25 litres (3 x 25l = 75l/day) of single use plastic per day, 1 week will be 21 bags ( 75l x 7=525l/week) and 1 month will be 84 bags (525l x 4 = 2,100l). Which means 1 single restaurant produces 1,008 bags of trash, 25,200 litres per year. One single restaurant only.

1 single restaurant produces 1,008 bags of trash, 25,200 litres per year!

Now does it make sense now that everyone contributes to the trash and that everyone plays a part to the change?

Running a café or restaurant might seemed to be more difficult in your point of view to make it sustainable. You would definitely love to change some habits to create positive impact to the environment but at the same time you don’t want to lose your customers. Ultimately, they are the ones who will pay your rent, your employees and your business existence. Disposable takeaways have been part of our lifestyle for so long. It makes everything so convenient and easy. If you don’t provide that convenience, your customers might probably just move to the neighboring cafe or restaurant that provide that comfort in your point of view.

But you know what? if you are concern about the environmental issues, so are your customers.

More and more people are willing to choose products that cause lesser harm to the environment and their health if they were given a choice.

tree in a light bulb

You can always start small. Small little changes to test the impact it has on your business. Environmentally friendly businesses like Lush and Apple don’t see their businesses getting affected but on the contrary increment in profits as their products make their consumers feel guilt-free and you too. You know that it does make a difference.

So here are 12 simple ways you can try out to make sustainability an advantage for your business too:


1. Water Management

Although the price of water is not significant in Thailand , bear in mind that water like any other resources, will be limited if there is an over-usage. Conserving water is important to make your cafe/ restaurant sustainable. It also helps you to cut cost in long-term basis. If you’re renovating or starting a new business, replace your facilities with water-saving toilets. They’re not more expensive than the other normal toilets but they’ll definitely save you a hell lot of water with every flush.

Water like any other resources, will be limited if there is an over-usage.

Integrated water filtration in Thailand saves the number of bottled water you use.

Consider switching from bottled water to in house filtration system. The cost on fixing such a system is not that high but advantage is that all the water will be portable. Prices range from as low as 6,000baht to as high as 60,000baht or more depending on the size and the system you prefer. Most companies selling the filtration system provides installation and you can always purchase the filter from them easily when it’s time to change. Homepro provides minimal charges for installation too. Check it out and make your choice.

2. Be smart with your disposables

Takeaways are one of the easiest way to accumulate waste. Thailand depends heavily on takeaways especially in cities like Bangkok. Everything is so fast paced and convenience is the key. Because of this, disposable plastic waste is the main culprit to the waste pollution here. But of course there are some solutions that you can contribute to cut down these disposables. If you’re serving takeaway coffee, consider the benefits of reusable mugs and cups. Print out a little poster supporting your customers to bring their own cups or mugs. Provide them with some discounts like 10 baht off if they use their own cups to encourage their actions. Or even a free upsize if you’re generous! And if you’re providing takeaway cups, try to opt for materials that caused as little impact to the environment as possible. Compostable paper-like cups and mugs are definitely better the plastic cups. If compostable cups are hard to find, at least opt for biodegradable. Though personally I am not really into biodegradable either because of the harm they could cause too. Whatever it is, avoid using styrofoam takeaways as they are the most hazardous culprit. It’s close to impossible to recycle styrofoam.The only company in the world that can recycle styrofoam is still working out on refining their system. Opt for paper bags instead of plastic for takeaways too. And paper bags without plastic coating if possible. For food, get recycled paper boxes for cakes and always ask before giving them plastic spoons and forks. Sometimes they don’t need them as they consume their food at home. A common problem I encounter in Starbucks (in Thailand) is when I order a sandwich takeaway, I always tell the staff that I don’t need fork and knife (I don’t gracefully sit down with a fork and a knife to eat a sandwich). I will still find them in my paper bag. When I opened the bag and returned the cutlery to them in front of their eyes, they took the cutlery and threw them straight in the trash! How wasteful was that???

Environmentally friendly recycled boxes with wooden utensils like this could be found in the packaging supplies shop.

3. Straws

One of the most unused products that 7–11 provide in Thailand to every customers’ beverages are straws. There’s no point giving out straws that go straight to the trash. Make straws optional. Ask customers if they would like a straw instead of throwing in one as a habit. Most drinks can make do without straws. Thick smoothies can be tricky but you can opt for tiny spoon stirrers instead.

Try to purchase reusable straws as an alternative for drinks served in-house. Alternative options are starting to appear these days in Thailand as replacement.

Types of Straws

Bamboo straws — There are some suppliers in Thailand providing bamboo straws that even allow customisation.

Local brand Sonny creates customised bamboo straws.

Latex straws — one of my preferred alternatives to disposable straws. They’re flexible so we can bend them in the water bottles. They come in normal drinking straws size or even larger circumference for smoothies or bubble tea. Brushes can be bought to clean these flexible straws.

Latex straws sold at สวนชั้น 1 ‘it’s going green’.

Metal straws — Metallic straws can be sanitised easily. Only disadvantage: not suitable for hot drinks and could be painful for people with sensitive teeth for the cold drinks.

Lotus roots — Some hippy cafes in Chiang Mai served their drinks using these totally natural lotus roots that has holes which is perfect as a natural , compostable alternative.


Paper straws — They come in a huge variety of designs because paper products make it easy for printing. Only downside, it could be a little on the high end and also a little flimsy if you leave the straw in the drink for too long.

Pasta straws — Another unique style that is popping up recently the usage of long straw-like pasta as actual straws.


4. Dining-in serves

Many cafes and restaurants still use disposable wares for drinks served in -house. Cost could cut down significantly if reusables are replaced instead. Glasses, mugs, mason jars come in huge variety. Check out in some of the main suppliers in the road across the main Chatuchak weekend market. You could even personalise them with your own logo on it. And why not sell these glasses and mugs as souvenirs too?

4. Dining-in serves

Many cafes and restaurants still use disposable wares for drinks served in -house. Cost could cut down significantly if reusables are replaced instead. Glasses, mugs, mason jars come in huge variety. Check out in some of the main suppliers in the road across the main Chatuchak weekend market. You could even personalise them with your own logo on it. And why not sell these glasses and mugs as souvenirs too?

Get creative with your coffee mugs served in house. 

5. Go local

It’s always good to support local produce especially when you know who produces food you cook and sell. Items travelled across the city cuts down on carbon footprints as compared to imported produce. The products will be fresher too since there’s lesser traveling time involved. Start small. You don’t have make the great leap to opt for total organic or 100% local produce. If you’re unsure of the quality and the cost, you can always start by ordering a few ingredients to try first. There are many local organic farmers around Thailand. Many of them take orders online via Facebook and deliver through Kerry express or Line man. Check out some of the farmers or producers found in our directory.

Two local women proudly showing their shallots and garlic produce.

6. Grow your own produce

If you have space in your garden, why not grow some of the vegetables or herbs yourself? Take control of what goes in the food you serve to your customers by planting your own fruits or vegetables. Turn your roof or patio into a garden not only looks good but it’s practical and economical too.

Little garden in Hom Cooking Club growing herbs.
Hom Hostel and Cooking Club growing their own herbs in their urban garden for their daily use.

7. Reduce printables

Try to opt for digital menu on electronic tablets as an option if possible. It allows you to change your promotions conveniently too. If menu is still necessary, opt for recycled paper. Leaflets, flyers, and brochures are not as effective as they use to be these days. Social media like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Line are widely use in Thailand.

Chalkboards are great alternative too since you can erase and change according to your promotions or seasonal menu.

8. Quality equipment and sustainable deco

A table made out from old door and pipes.

Be creative with the deco! Old doors and crates could be transformed into tables and chairs. Search for secondhand products or equipment online. They’re cheaper too. Opt for eco-friendly materials if you’re purchasing new products. Be creative with your deco and interior.
Invest in good quality products like energy saving fridge. Set motion sensitive lights in places like storage rooms, staff breaks room, hallways and bathrooms.
Replace your light bulbs with energy saving bulbs. They cost more but cut down on your bills in long term basis.

9. Manage your waste

We all know that it’s not easy to sort our waste in Thailand. Everyone dumped everything in a bag and left them out for collection by the garbage trucks. If your cafe or restaurant has the space, create your own waste sorting bins. Train your staff to sort plastic bottles and milk bottles, glass bottles, paper products and compostable waste. Plastic bottles are always well sought after by the locals as they can resell them for some extra cash. If there are any farms around your vicinity, offer your compostable waste. They can either feed their farm animals with them or use the waste as compost. Either ways, they will profit from your contribution.

man throwing restaurant food in bin

10. Reuse coffee grinds

Used coffee grinds could be use as fertilisers for plants. If you don’t have any plants within your premises, offer your coffee grinds to customers for free. Help the nature grow.


11. Choose eco-friendly or non-toxic cleaning products

Conventional cleaning products are bad for the environment. The harsh chemicals in industrial cleaners don’t break down and pollute the air and water table. Plus, customers aren’t exactly fans of that just-bleached smell. There are some great non-toxic local cleaning products available in Thailand. Pipper and Phu Sompor are some local products that you can find in local supermarkets or you could order directly from them.

Phu Sompor, another great non-toxic cleaning product line made in Thailand

12. Staff training

Not all the people are into environmental issues or concern about sustainability especially in Thailand. Even if you believe in your mission, it is always hard to convince your staff to follow your footsteps. Habits will not change overnight. This is probably the hardest to conquer among all. Contribute to the community. Once in a while, you can always play a positive part by inviting a local community or foundation for a day lunch or tea at your place. You could also donate some of your leftovers for them. That little something extra makes not much of a difference to you but could bring lots of smiles to the less privileged.

All in all, while it’s important for you and your staff to be able to show your commitment in sustainability, your priority as a cafe or restaurant owner should always be delivering an exceptional customer experience. Offer sufficient information — through staff education, your website, your FB page, or even your menu — on your efforts, services and products to let your guest know more, but don’t shove the message down their throats.


Georgi has lived in Thailand on & off for almost 7 years now. French, born and grownup in Singapore, she has always believed that sustainability is the solution for the future. Having lived in several developed countries, she devotes herself to create more awareness on simple sustainable lifestyle for Thai locals and foreigners living or visiting Thailand.  

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September 5, 2018