Catering industry tackles war on plastic

How does the catering industry tackle the overuse of plastic bottles and containers and the amount of plastic rubbish that is accumulating in our seas and in landfill sites all over our planet?

As trends change and businesses in the industry expand operations, all manner of restaurants & caterers are increasingly put under pressure to demonstrate corporate social responsibility.

Catering establishments use a large amount of plastic for take away foods and drink therefore the catering industry has a big part to play in the war on plastic. For example, it’s now possible to buy spoons made from paper and plastic take away tubs can be changed to cardboard or bamboo but we must all  be prepared to pay a little bit more. Overall, the food and drink industrys response to the rise of environmental concerns on plastic waste increases with demand and media coverage.

Whilst progress in the corporate catering industry to reduce their plastic packaging is slow, it is progress nonetheless. Smaller businesses may be less willing to change due to costs but they could save on costs if: they reduced packaging, made changes in how they use plastic and made a concerted effort to manage their packaging processes. An increasing amount of larger companies are making it their corporate social responsibility to reduce their environmental impact, which is great. They do this by replacing current packaging materials with efficient, environmental alternatives that are available for all sized catering establishments; big and small therefore there is no excuse anymore not to change.

Polystyrene alternatives

With the banning of chemical-filled & non-biodegradable polystyrene due to health and environmental concerns being demanded, eco-friendly materials for restaurants and caterers recycling products are in more demand than ever. There are many alternatives to polystyrene boxes and food containers such as:

Compostable containers

Compostable containers are made up of peat fibre, palm fibre, insulated paper board, wheat stocks and corn starch that are easy to break down in to compost. However, there is a need to protect palm groves from becoming extinct, from over-use. As with most things, one must use in moderation.

Edible food containers

Edible food containers were first trialed by KFC for their Rice Bowlz using tortilla bowls for their rice, vegetable and chicken dishes.

Edible cups

Edible cups have been trialed by KFC in the UK. They used alternative coffee cups made of biscuit, sugar paper and heat resistant white chocolate. Coming up with replacements for large quantities of polystyrene cups used every day is now a possibility for caterers everywhere.

Reusable containers

Reusable containers are well worth investing in, whether caterers sell  with their food or rent the reusable food containers.  This may be one of the costlier alternatives to polystyrene or plastic containers, but it can have the most advantages for the planet, consumer and the business that uses reusable containers to avoid waste. These non-disposable food-wares made of metal, qualitative plastics & ceramics not only gives customers that homely, restaurant feel to their food and beverages, but it also puts less of a strain on waste disposal systems. A customer could rent a mug or glass, for instance, and they would pay an additional deposit, which would be refunded upon return. Just like in the old days of returning empty glass lemonade bottles to the shop to get some pennies back. Not only is this replicable by all caterers, but it is also adaptable in terms of customisation by adjusting prices for high cost items e.g. quality crockery or crystal glasses, having breakages policies in place. This alternative to plastic can be used by any service provider including catering departments in Universities, Government offices and corporate businesses. Customisation of reusable food containers can be big business with branding helping your PR as well as the planet.

Tackling plastic bottle waste

The Industry Body, Water UK,is working with UK Shops, cafés and businesses in a scheme to cut disposable plastic bottle use by tens of millions. This scheme is to encourage catering outlets and other businesses to offer free water refill points in every major city and town in England by 2021.

Whitbread, which owns Premier Inn and Costa Coffee, is the first to sign up to the initiative and will provide water in all its branches from March 2018. Using refill stations and water fountains, the new scheme has been set up on the back of a previous initiative, the Refill campaign, which currently has more than 1,600 refill stations across the UK and operates in 13 towns and cities in England.

London mayor Sadiq Khan pledged to create 20 new water fountains and other bottle-refill points in the city, which will be a great help.

The truth about plastic bottles

  • 1,000,000 are bought every minute or 20,000 per second.
  • 480 billion plastic drinks bottles were sold in 2016
  • 110 billion of those were made by Coca Cola
  • Less than 50% of plastic drinks bottles are collected for recycling
  • Only 7% of plastic drinks bottles are turned in to new bottles
  • There is less requirement to buy bottled water in UK because this country has some of the best drinking water in the world

If you’d like to discuss how your catering department or catering establishment can cut down on plastic waste, how to recycle more and change your packaging to be more environmentally friendly, please get in touch with our food service consultants at Ramsay Todd Consultancy.