Footprint Forum – Plastics In food service: a must or menace?

Footprint Forum – Plastics In food service: a must or menace?

Neil Whittall – Chair of the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group

  • In 2016 more than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold worldwide. Less than half were recycled. Only 7% were made into new bottles.

  • Plastic itself is a brilliant material, the issue is how it is discarded and responsibility issues.

  • Many types of plastic are beneficial to society.

  • Important to understand what plastic is. Some things that are seen as ‘plastic free’ still contain polymers.

  • Plastic has a place in the world, we can’t eliminate it completely. E.g. it is good for hygiene i.e. in hospitals, on the go nature of society.

  • Plastic is efficient in the manufacturing industry. Should cut down on it, but not demonise.

  • Should look at reason why we use plastic. Use recycled materials where allowed but important to remember this isn’t always possible.

  • 10% of energy needed to put food on our tables is used up in the packaging element.

  • Plastic is good to cater for practicality, particularly on the go consumption.

  • Need to look to change consumer behaviour change.

  • Manage waste collection.

  • To increase recycling, need to work with the people who bring the products out. Need to tie together different materials.

  • Need industry to work together: retailers, brands, distributors, manufacturers, suppliers, local authorities, governments, NGO’s and litter groups.

  • Plastic is only a demon when it ends up in the wrong place.

  • On the Go recovery needs to be the next big thing. Not enough recycling bins for on the go culture.

  • Need to communicate with the consumer the impacts of not recycling and just throwing plastic away.

  • Latte levy: discount bringing own mug. Avoidable tax used to change behaviour habits. Plastic cups aren’t an issue if recycled. Costa have cup collection system in place. Buying the material back.

  • Need to avoid making knee-jerking decisions. Need a long term solution.

Panel 1 – status quo of the plastic problem

  • Single use plastics are the biggest issue and need to be prevented i.e. carrier bags, straws, stirrers, polystyrene foam. These are easy changes to make because we don’t actually need these things.

  • Compostables are practical in food service for contamination.

  • Mixed recycling can be problematic.

  • There are 264 different recycling systems in the UK; this becomes confusing for consumers.

  • Want to make it compulsory that every household has two bins, one for bio waste and one for generic waste. This will reduce the contamination issue.

  • Uniform recycling system around the UK will reduce contamination.

  • Need communication and education e.g. bin labelling can be confusing. Needs to be simplified so the consumer knows what goes in what bin.

  • Government is responsible for standardisation of recycling and communicating with people.

Louise Stevens – Head of Circular Economy at Innocent

  • Sustainability strategy: be better than when we started.

  • Plastic can’t be recycled endlessly.

  • Mix recycled plastic with plant plastic

  • Need clear communication on packaging as to how to recycle products.

  • Want customers to know how to recycle and to want to recycle.

  • Molasses plant based plastic from sugar cane. Used in plastic bottles.

  • Contamination is a big issue in the UK. Have to source plastic elsewhere to make recycled bottles.

Panel 2 – future of plastics in food service

  • Need customers and consumers to understand the process and supply chain of plastic. This will mean the right environment choice is made.

  • Look at food waste production. How do plastics help preserve food?

  • Plastics are producing food waste e.g. pre-packed vegetables – too much for one person.

  • Focus on preventing all types of waste.

  • Instead of focussing on more and more recycling, focus on using less plastic in the first place. Use less plastic in packaging

  • Recycling levels aren’t what they should be.

  • Plastic in the food industry can be the best way, particularly for hygiene.

  • Huba? Sustainable charity. Brands working with them to increase awareness and recycling. 6 months: placing recycling bins in Leeds city centre, talking to people about recycling etc. targeting offices and retail sector. Increasing communication.

  • Need to change consumer expectations e.g. someone turns up to the salad bar at 3 when it is closing and expects it to be packed with the same fresh salad that it had at 12. Communicate with them; say it’s to prevent food waste. If you want a salad, we can make one for you.

  • Plastic bags; example of consumer behaviour. Used to always take a bag, even though we didn’t need them.

Final thoughts:

  • Need a recycling revolution.

  • Prevent plastic use when can.

  • Need to communicate with consumers

  • People need to take responsibility

  • People in the industry need to work together to improve communication.

  • Need a long term solution, not just short term.

  • Need to show people that plastic isn’t bad, only some types.