At our second annual future-proofing foodservice seminar in September 2019, we heard from a range of speakers on the topic of sustainability in our kitchens. During the seminar, our speakers, Philippe Farineau & Paula Stakelum from Ashford Castle (with help & support from Ailish Keane (Ashford Castle Estate Purchasing Manager) and Sorcha Kavanagh from the Conscious Cup Campaign, focussed on what we can do across our kitchens and businesses to reduce plastics and single-use disposables. Here are their top pieces of advice and insights into this topic.
BACK TO THE OLD
It’s only in recent years that we’ve begun to depend more heavily on plastics. We need to look back at the older methods of cooking and pull from these again.
Philippe Farineau and Paula Stakelum of Ashford Castle shared their experience of moving back to more traditional methods. For example, they’ve stopped cooking using sous vide and vac pack bags. To replace this method, they’ve simply moved to when making a fresh pot of stew, leaving it in the pot it’s been cooked in. The stew will keep for about 3 days before a new batch is needed, and in fact, they found that the flavour matured and developed over that time and they were left with an even more delicious dish. Not only that, but it cuts back on labour for the team as well! Sous vide is done portion by portion in the kitchen, this requires one member of staff to pack every portion individually. It’s much easier to cook the stew in a large pot and serve as required.
They use 87% less cling film in the kitchen now. The replacement? Storage containers. A simple changeover that’s resulted in a huge reduction in the plastic being used.
The waste disposal system they use has changed also, they no longer use bin bags, instead opting for buckets in the kitchen instead. When you can see what you’re throwing away, you become more conscious of what goes into your bins and by using buckets in place of plastic bin bags this is another way of reducing your plastic consumption.
Piping Bags was another big area of plastic consumption for Ashford Castle. In 2018, they went through 21,000 piping bags. The decision was made to stop buying them. They worked with their suppliers to get biodegradable bags instead.
Ashford Castle now use 87% less cling film in the kitchen
TALK TO SUPPLIERS
If you’re looking to reduce plastics in your kitchen, then talking to your suppliers is definitely a good place to start. By opening the conversations on sustainability you’ll be able to come to conclusions that would not always be possible alone.
Paula spoke about how their team have lobbied their suppliers to work with them. Their beef now comes wrapped in muslin instead of clingfilm and excess packaging. Produce is delivered in reusable crates or boxes and returned to the suppliers during the next delivery. It becomes a cycle.
It’s often some of the larger suppliers that are not complying or can pose problems to this new way of operating. The key is to be persistent with your suppliers. Explain to them what your goals are and where you’re looking to make the changes. Ensure you’re having the conversations with them.
REUSE NOT RECYCLE
While we should aim to recycle whenever possible, both in our businesses and in our homes, the focus needs to be on reusable over recycling. Here are some small changes that can be made to include more reusable materials:
- Cling film – We mentioned this earlier, but why not cut back on cling film by replacing it with storage boxes - airtight ones.
- Replace your single-use disposables such as cutlery, stirrers and straws with washable reusable versions like metal or glass.
- Instead of offering plastic bottles with drinks, opt for brands that use glass bottles instead.
- Use discounts to encourage people to bring their own keep cups.
Be aware of the value of reusing products. Engage with your customers and bring them on the journey you’re taking to become less dependent on plastics.
Compostables are a great alternative provided they end up being composted
COMPOSTABLE VS RECYCLABLE
Sorcha Kavanagh, Coordinator of Conscious Cup Campaign explains more about the movement away from single-use plastics and the importance of understanding how different forms of packaging are dealt with and how we can reduce them. Reusable is always the better option, however where this isn’t possible what is the better choice to make, compostable or recyclable?
We often question which material is more sustainable but it's really important to look at it from a "Sustainable Systems" point of view. In other words, can that material be captured at the end of life to be turned into something else? Is the infrastructure there to capture it? Here are some examples.
In Ireland, most households have compost bins, however not all of them do, equally, we do not have compost bins on the street so customers have to take their compostable cup home to be disposed of, or dispose at the Cafe in a compost bin. Compostable packaging will only decompose in industrial composting sites, so it is important to realise they don't just decompose on the ground. If put into a really well-managed home composting system, they will eventually breakdown, but it can take longer than industrial composting.
Now if we were to dispose of at the cafe, it begs the question of ‘why we don’t have a reusables/ceramics for sit-in instead’. For deliveries to homes, then compostable could be good if reuse isn't possible, as many customers would have access to a compost bin at home. In this instance, the key is to also ensure the customer knows you have invested in compostable packaging and instructions on how to correctly dispose of it and why. If you do choose to go compostable ensure that it meets the standard of EN13432 or check with www.cre.ie who are the Composting Association of Ireland.
For recyclable cups, as per www.mywaste.ie the lid can be disposed of in a recycling bin but the cups currently cannot, as the liquid may contaminate the rest of the dry recycling. Everything that goes into the domestic recycling bin must be three things, Clean, Dry and Loose.
With recyclable material, it’s important to remember that they need to be recycled for it to be beneficial. Often the bins that we find on the street go to landfills. So, if you’re packaging your food in recyclable containers but the customer ends up putting them in a bin on the street, then all of your effort to make the product recyclable has gone to waste. A recycling bin that gets contaminated with general waste all has to go to the landfill.
Similarly, with compostable products, they need to end up in the correct bin to be treated correctly. More awareness needs to be created around composting. This can be a very sustainable option if treated correctly.
Both compostable & recyclable have their positives and negatives to consider, however, we can most certainly agree that both options come out on top over their plastic counterparts.
Train your team to not be overly reliant on plastics
Another key element to eradicating plastics is training your staff to not be reliant on them. If you want to eradicate or even reduce the amount of plastic you use in your business, you’ll need to have your whole team on board with the idea. You’ll need the support of your team in order to make a change.
Training staff to be aware is important in general, but especially when you’re making new changes to your operations. By asking your team to become more aware of the plastics they use and then discard, you can actively reduce the amounts you’re using.
Start by adding the new bins to the staff canteen. Explain the new system and explain why you’re choosing to move the business in this new, sustainable direction.
Your employees know your business and can be a great asset to driving change, they may also have an interest in sustainability. See if you have volunteers that would like to participate in the organisation's Green Team. If large enough, they could meet each month and look at easy changes first, gaining confidence by starting with the easy fixes initially. If your organisation is smaller then perhaps having a Green Ambassador is the way to go and meet periodically to discuss how you can support each other. Having a Green Team/Ambassador can have many benefits, employees often appreciate working for organisations striving towards sustainability and in an increasingly competitive environment, your employees can really make you differentiate your business from others.
It might be worth getting them on board by providing a reusable water bottle and coffee cup. Or even just encouraging them to bring their own to so they lead by example, you could look at making it a policy to ban them internally.
Start small. This is not a short-term game. Eradicating plastics is a huge undertaking, don’t feel like you have to do it overnight, even reducing your consumption of these single-use disposable can be a big venture. It’s important to do things that feel achievable, based on your experience with these, move onto the next step. Be sure to start small and take little steps in order to ensure you’re not overwhelming your staff or falling back old habits.
One small step you can take to start is by putting straws/disposables behind the counter of your café/restaurant – you know the saying ‘out of sight out of mind’. You don’t always need a straw, but if you see them readily available you might opt to put one in your drink. By moving these behind the counter, your customer is less likely to go looking for one.
Take a look at the changes you’d like to make across your business to reduce plastics and become more sustainable. Then, when you have those listed out, look at what you can start with. What’s an easy new habit you can build to put you on the right track? Start there and take your time.
Paula Stakelum – @PaulaPastry on Twitter
Philippe Farineau – Philippe Farineau on Instagram
Ailish Keane (Estate Purchasing manager of Ashford Castle)
Sorcha Kavanagh – @CCCampaign_Irl on Twitter
For their insights and advice on how we can reduce plastics in our kitchens
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