Cultivating a Better World: Chipotle Turns Avocado Waste Into Apparel

Caitlin Leibert started the sustainability department at Chipotle — and her job description includes dumpster diving (but more about that later).

Caitlin Leibert, Courtesy of LinkedIn

We may not think about it often, but looking back on kitchen clean-ups, unfinished restaurant meals and full stacks of dining hall plates, food waste is a real problem that contributes to a harmful environmental impact. 

According to the Upcycled Food Assocation, approximately 30 to 40 percent of food is wasted, contributing to unnecessary resource use, failure to feed hungry people and increased greenhouse gas emissions as unused food rots in landfills. 

While many people want to play their part in reducing their food waste, many don’t even know where to begin. With research and thought, you can learn a great deal about food waste and how you can adjust your habits as a consumer. 

The Fit Magazine was invited to a Sept. 22 webinar, “Positive Climate Action Through Upcycled Foods: What Are They, How Do They Help, and Where Can I Get Some?” hosted by the Upcycled Food Association.  

Leibert, director of sustainability at Chipotle Mexican Grill, was a featured panelist talking about the initiatives taken at Chipotle to contribute to less food waste.

The Fit conducted an email interview with Leibert to learn more about the initiative, how Chiptole fused fashion with sustainability and how we, as college students, can contribute to the upcycled food movement. 

Courtesy of Chipotle

Chipotle upcycles their avocado pit waste to be used as natural dyes for their Chipotle Goods collection as part of their companies commitment to circular resource systems. 

Leibert said Chipotle is working towards ensuring half the waste they produce as a company is out of the landfills by the end of year. 

Leibert said there is an ongoing conversation of how to limit waste throughout Chiptole’s supply chain, but another question needs to be asked: how can we limit the waste once it is already at restaurants? 

Leibert said the company uses mindfulness practices for their employees to help contribute to the limit of food waste, prompting employees to think about their actions when they are chopping food to produce as little waste as possible.

By taking a deeper look at Chipotle’s biggest sources of landfill waste, the company was able to narrow in on targeting avocado waste. 

“We purchase more avocados than any other restaurant in America, which means we produce more avocado pits than any other restaurant. Commercial compost isn’t available everywhere, and that meant that a lot of avocado pits were potentially destined for landfills each year,” Leibert said. “We started brainstorming ways we could use our avocado pits for good, and natural dye was something that kept coming up. We worked with our partners to see if they were open to using our avocado pits to make a natural dye, and they were.”

The Chipotle Goods apparel line works to reflect the sustainable values of the company, Leibert said. 

Credit: The Chipotle Goods

The avocado dye produces a “millennial pink color” that falls on trend right now. 

“With an eye towards more sustainable farming, fibers for the products are grown through practices required for organic cotton farming,” Leibert said. “Since so much of the cotton grown in the U.S. is conventional cotton, we work with many small certified organic farms in India to grow the crop, and the organic cotton is then worked into apparel in India or China.”

Leibert said a long term goal is to be able to assist cotton farmers in the U.S. to shift their practices from conventional cotton to organic cotton with donations from the Goods collection. 

Leibert and her team periodically engage in “team dumpster diving sessions,” to audit their waste and see if their efforts are proving to be successful. 

“You want a job in sustainability at Chipotle, you gotta hop in the dumpster,” she said.

Leibert provided advice to The Fit Magazine readers on how they can reduce their food waste and become more sustainable eaters as college students. 

She recommended being mindful of food waste in dining halls. 

Think back on how many times you and your friends piled together plates of food while you hung out in the dining hall, only to throw most of it away.

She recommends taking what you know you will eat and then you can always go back for more! That’s the beauty of an all you can eat dining hall. 

She encourages students to verify whether their colleges are donating edible food and composting inedible food. She said if these programs do not exist, use your voice to encourage your campus to add donation and composting programs to their operations. 

She said it’s important to be mindful and knowledgeable about where your food is coming from by asking your campus dining services about their sourcing standards and learning how you can get involved to encourage more local, organic and fair trade food on your campus.

So the next time you are piling up a plate in the dining hall, think about how you can decrease your food waste! 

Credit: Chipotle

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