08 July 2021

7 ways to get single-use plastics out of your food business

Cutting single-use plastics out of your food or hospitality business is a hugely satisfying way to tackle the climate emergency and know you are having a positive effect on the world’s ecosystems. It’s also a great way to reassure your employees and customers that they are actively helping to address one of the world’s biggest environmental problems. 

At first glance, it might seem daunting. We live in a world wrapped in plastic but, by taking small, simple steps, you can embark on a journey to a world with no single-use plastics at all. 

1 - Are you clinging to cling film?

When Skye Gyngell set about removing single-use plastics from Spring - her restaurant in Somerset House - she calculated that they were getting through 800 miles¹of cling film a year. If every restaurant and foodservice business in the UK used that quantity, that would amount to enough cling film to wrap the world over 3,000 times². And that’s just the UK.

So how could you cope in a kitchen without cling film? Well, at Spring they bought lids for everything and what they couldn’t buy solid lids for, they bought silicone covers to seal. They also used beeswax wrap and, occasionally, they wrapped with compostable cellulose-based film. Converting to reusable lids won’t just help save the planet, it’ll translate into a healthier bottom line over time, reducing the plastic you buy and, ultimately, the waste you pay to get taken away.

While you’re thinking about your use of plastic film, you might want to think about how you cook sous vide. There are some great ideas here about how you can reduce plastic use.

2- If you serve takeaways, maybe a bring-back scheme could reduce your single-use plastics

The University of Manchester estimates that over two billion takeaway containers are used in the UK and EU every year⁴. Ensuring they are metal or biodegradable will have a huge impact on the amount of single-use plastics we use. We were inspired by a restaurant in Shipley, West Yorkshire, which encourages customers to buy steel tiffins. They are the stacking stainless steel food containers that can be reused to collect your takeaways again and again. The Crafty Indian has garnered national coverage for this brilliantly sustainable initiative.

3- The final (plastic) straw 

The distressing footage, captured by a marine biologist in 2015, of a plastic straw being removed from a turtle’s nose, quickly trended across the world. Coupled with documentaries like Blue Planet 2 and A Plastic Ocean, it increased awareness of the problem and gave rise to a wave of anger that swept governments around the world into action. 

In England, supplying or selling single-use plastic straws is now illegal and since July 3rd 2021, it has been illegal to supply drinks products with single-use plastic straws attached to the packaging. Other UK nations are also introducing bans, so every restaurant in the UK should only be supplying reusable or biodegradable straws to customers who want or need them and avoiding any other form of single-use plastics such as drink stirrers.

A number of restaurants that pivoted to paper straws at the height of the storm found they were criticised because the replacements weren’t recyclable, so it is worth letting employees and customers know how to dispose of any straws you do use. 

4- Have you got the bottle to take on single-use plastics?

The UK gets through 7.7 billion single-use plastic water bottles every year⁵. There are a couple of ways you can help tackle this. The first is never to serve customers water in plastic bottles. Instead, invest in a water filtration system that allows you to serve tables with your own sparkling or still bottled water in reusable glass or ceramic containers. 

The other way to drive down the use of plastic is by actively encouraging visits from people wanting to fill up their reusable water bottle for free. Researchers found that a third of people still felt awkward asking for a refill if they weren’t intending to make a purchase⁵. 

By promoting this behaviour, you may even drive footfall to your business and demonstrate that you’re on the same wavelength as the 85% of people who are concerned about plastic pollution⁵. Joining a local Refill scheme is a great way to put your business on the map (quite literally) and help thirsty consumers to find you and see all you have to offer.

5- Sack the sachet

The pandemic has brought with it an unwelcome outbreak of plastic sauce sachets. They are another form of unrecyclable plastic film that will inevitably end up in landfill or incineration plants. As soon as restrictions allow, make sure you switch back to more sustainable means of serving up your sauces. Reusable ceramic or glass containers look so much better and will mean less material going into your general waste bins, saving it from landfill or incineration.

6- Cutting out plastic knives, forks and spoons 

Outdoor food consumption has come into its own as we deal with Covid-19 restrictions and the increased demand to eat outside but that doesn’t mean giving up on the environment. Sustainably sourced bamboo is an increasingly common alternative to disposable plastic cutlery. And other alternatives to plastic are currently being produced from paper, wood, fungi, algae, potatoes, and pineapple leaves, among other biodegradable materials. You can now also find a huge range of eating and drinking utensils made from polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). It’s a bit of a mouthful but it is compostable.

Replacing plastic products with these eco-friendly alternatives may end up costing a little more but most customers will appreciate what you are doing to help the environment and be prepared to pay a small premium to support your efforts. Your waste management service will be able to advise which waste stream they can best be recycled in.

7- Talk to your suppliers

Many of the plastics you’ll encounter in the day-to-day running of your business come from outside suppliers. But those same suppliers are increasingly aware of their own environmental responsibilities and should be keen to help. 

The most popular cooking oils we supply are available in steel tins as well as bottles in boxes and we’ll be happy to discuss which type of container we can supply your oil in. If you are using bottles in boxes, you can instantly stop them being single-use plastics by reusing them to contain the used cooking oil we collect from you. We can even supply you with a funnel to help make decanting easier, safer and more hygienic.
These are just some of the ways that you can remove single-use plastics from your business for good. There will always be a place for it in our world but, of all the plastic ever made in the world, only 9% has been recycled⁶, so we simply can’t afford to use it just once before we throw it away. 

²Based on Statista 2018 estimate of 98,059 restaurants, event caterers and mobile food service businesses in the UK each using 800 miles of clingfilm per year and the circumference of the earth being 24,901 miles.

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