How to reduce plastic use in hospitality and recycle better

From alternative plastic containers for restaurants to working out exactly what those plastic recycling symbols mean – here's the lowdown

Plastic is a brilliant invention in many ways, saving money, time and wasted food and drink. However, its impact on the environment is huge. WRAP explains: “We understand that plastic packaging plays an important role in the foodservice industry. It helps preserve and extend the shelf life of food and is critical in reducing food waste. However, we know that many of the plastic items used in the sector are single-use, making them problematic.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has meant some progress has gone backwards with more plastic being used to make things more hygienic. Hopefully, as the situation improves, venues will return to making positive steps.

“65% of diners now want to make sustainable choices when eating out”
- The Sustainable Restaurant Association, Oct 2020

Make sure customers know you are making changes and using more sustainable products. It’s good marketing practice and if you’re buying from sustainable suppliers, let your customers know by highlighting it on your menus and social media, too. Your customers will want to know that you are taking action to become a more sustainable business and reduce your reliance on environmentally damaging products.

Recycle with lorry image

How to recycle plastic

Often, buying plastic is unavoidable. But you can make informed choices. If you have to buy something with plastic packaging, choose recyclable, reusable, biodegradable or compostable. Look out for brands that offer refillable containers.

Plastic packaging carries a triangle with accompanying numbers or letters. This indicates the type of plastic it is. PET is a good option. It’s made from recycled plastic and is a closed loop system so once recycled, it will be able to be used again and again. This means less virgin (new) plastic is being made and circulated.

The plastic recycling symbols explained

 

What about those difficult-to-recycle plastics?

Together with TerraCycle, some of the big brands such as Walkers and KP Snacks have introduced schemes where you can recycle tricky packaging like snack and crisp packets. Eighty per cent of UK households are within just four miles of a drop-off location so there should be one very near your venue.

Have an extra recycling bin in the kitchen and if you’re a café or food-to-go venue where rubbish is left, also place one for customers – well signed, to alert them to the scheme. 

Find the TerraCycle schemes here.

What’s the DRS?

The Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is going live in Scotland in July 2022. If you sell drinks for consumption off-site, you will need to charge your customers a deposit which will be refunded if they return the container. Customers who are consuming drinks on-site won’t be charged: the venue pays the deposit when the drinks are bought and it is paid back on return.

“Because plastic is so durable, every single piece of plastic ever made still exists, and will continue existing for at least 500 years”
- Greenpeace
Reduce and fruit image

How to reduce plastic use

Obviously, one of the biggest positive actions you can take is to use less plastic in your venue. A lot of the plastic that ends up on landfill can be avoided by making a few simple swaps.

 

1 Use compostable straws and only give them out if asked for. Paper, metal and even pasta straws are available now!
2 Swap takeaway cutlery for wooden versions or have a sign saying ‘ask for cutlery if needed’
3 Buy loose fruit, veg, meat and fish where you can and wash before use
4 Post-Covid, use bottles of sauces on tables instead of sachets or invest in catering packs and decant into smaller condiment dishes to give to customers
5 For takeaways, use paper bags instead of plastic. Alternatively, ask your customers to bring their own
6 For high-use and long shelf-life items like pasta, buy in bulk to reduce plastic. Or, if you can, buy loose and store in your own containers
7 Use compostable clingfilm or sealable tubs. Consider reusable silicon lids, if possible
8 For takeaways, use card boxes and never polystyrene! Recyclable foil containers are another option

How the plastic tax will affect you

From April 2022 plastic producers will have to pay a tax on anything they make that doesn’t have at least 30% recycled content. There is a concern that manufacturers will pass this on to businesses, which would be difficult to absorb without passing it down the line to customers. We’ll keep you updated on this as more information is released.

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