As we see a shift towards more restaurants adopting a takeaway model, we decided to look at the different types of packaging so that you can stay on track and meet your sustainability goals. There are many things to consider when purchasing food packaging, in this quick guide we’ve broken down the most popular options and shared some information which will help you make a more informed decision on what’s best for your business.
In the past year or so, we had seen significant progress in efforts to reduce single use disposables in the catering sector and a growing awareness of the impact of the volume of packaging waste produced in our industry, with great progress in particular in take-up of reusable coffee cups. In the wake of Covid-19, we have sadly seen a massive increase in single use again, partly due to the growth in take away and eat at home options but also because many businesses have opted to offer more individually packaged items due to safety concerns and to stop accepting reusable cups due to concerns over contact. It is important to note that Covid-19 is not passed through the food chain and there is no scientific basis for the use of disposables as opposed to reusable and washable crockery. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has stated that it is not necessary to use disposables and that it is still permitted to accept reusable cups and containers from customers, provided systems are in place to ensure safety. [Source: Food Safety Authority of Ireland]
By far the most sustainable option, reusables are the number one choice when looking at products and packaging.
Here are some simple suggestions for ways that you can increase reusables in your restaurant:
Try swapping clingfilm for reusable boxes
Consider introducing a small fee for disposable packaging on takeaway items. Research has shown that a fee on using disposables will incur a better result over a reward for bringing your own packaging.
Display signs at the till to encourage your customers to use reusable packaging and bring their own containers and cups.
Reducing how much packaging and single use items you have in your business can also help you reach your sustainability goals as well as being good for your bottom line. If you don’t have to use as many items, then you also won’t have to buy them in either.
Here are some suggestions for ways that you can reduce the amount of packaging and single use items you have in your restaurant:
If you’re offering a takeaway service, don’t include disposable cutlery in the bag as a default. Most people ordering takeaway will be bringing their food home or at the office and therefore won’t need them anyway. Instead try including cutlery as an option for people when they order, ask them if they need the cutlery before you include it in their order. If your customers do opt for cutlery, consider how much your food requires. Do you need to include a full cutlery set or will a fork suffice?
If you’re offering burgers for example, do you need to include a takeaway box or will paper wrapping be enough to include? Sit down and think about your food offering and look at the different ways in which you can reduce your single use.
You can also look at ways to encourage your customers to bring their own packaging when they arrive to collect their food. If feasible can you offer them an incentive to bring their own bag or lunchbox container?
Talk to your suppliers about ways in which they can reduce packaging on what they send to you. Can they opt for reusable boxes? Are they able to take back the packaging for processing or reuse on their side?
When deciding which takeaway containers are best to use it’s important to consider a few things, such as:
- What type of food will you have on your takeaway menu?
- What size will the container need to be?
- What type of food will they need to hold? - Is there sauce included with the dish?
- What is your budget?
- Where will the food be eaten?
Once you’ve thought about what the features the container will need to have, you can then take a look at what’s on offer. Here are some of the sustainable options to be mindful of.
Food that will be eaten at home: Cardboard packaging is typically the best option.
Usually, you will find this packaging has a thin plastic lining on the inside, however, it can still be washed out and put in cardboard recycling at home, as long as it’s fully clean and free from any grease marks. Be sure to label your packaging clearly, encouraging your customers to clean before they put in the recycling bin. [Source: City to Sea]
Food that will be eaten out/away from the home: Bagasse packaging is one of the most eco-friendly options currently available.
Bagasse is the waste that is produced from sugar cane plants, left over after the sugar has been extracted. It is slightly absorbent but does not leak sauces. These soft paper-style boxes will decompose naturally if they end up becoming litter. Typically, in public places you’ll find only general waste bins. All the waste in these bins will most likely end up going for incineration or landfill, not recycled or composted. Therefore, the focus here is on what happens if your item becomes litter, making Bagasse the most eco-friendly option. Also, to note, if this packaging is brought home, it can be put in your home compost bins. [Source: City to Sea & EcoPack]
Cutlery: bamboo or wood utensils are the best option. Try to avoid PLA (polylactic acid) options here where possible as they are not suitable for home composts and do not break down correctly in landfill. Also aim to get FSC certified wood and paper items to ensure the item comes from properly managed forests. [Source: WA Plastic Free]
Bioplastics: These are not a sustainable packaging option currently as they won’t compost or biodegrade if they become litter. Bioplastics need temperatures of 60 degrees and higher in order to breakdown. Conditions are not suitable for these bioplastics to compost either. If you do find a supplier or correct way to dispose of compostable bioplastics, not only will you need to pay for the service but you’ll also have to ask your customer to bring their takeaway packaging back to you so that you can properly dispose of it, so the chances of it being disposed of correctly are very slim. In this case, it makes just as much sense to carry their own reusable container, that they can take home and easily wash up themselves. [Source: City to Sea]
Compostable: packaging is typically made from plant-based, recycled materials that enable it to break down in an environmentally friendly manner. Compostable disposables are designed to be recycled in an industrial composting facility together with food waste. That means there is no need for sorting, your compostable packaging can all go together with any leftover food inside. You will need to have your compostable packaging disposed of correctly and sent to the proper waste facility in order to ensure their being disposed of in the most sustainable way. [Source: Vegware]
Biodegradable: can be a good option for compostable packaging; however, it tells us nothing about timelines for breakdown of the product – for example, wood is biodegradable, but a log cabin can stand for generations after being built. This is something to look out for if you opt to purchase biodegradable packaging, check the decomposition time and what is needed in order for the product to be composted. Check with your waste company if it can be put in your bin for industrial composting? [Source: Vegware]
PLA (polylactic acid): performs similarly to traditional plastics, however, can be compostable if disposed of correctly in commercial facilities. The two more common types seen are Clear PLA (food boxes and coffee cup liners) and white CPLA (cutlery, coffee cup lids). For PLA products to be compostable, they must be tested and meet the certain criteria, mainly that they will break down within 90 days in an industrial in-vessel composter. PLA do not compost at home as it does not get hot enough. Therefore, they are possibly the least sustainable of the compostable options. [Source: Versatile Packaging]
Vegware: is made from plants using renewable, lower carbon, recycled, or reclaimed materials. It is also designed to be commercially compostable with food waste, where accepted. [Source: Vegware]
Did you know that takeaway cups are not recyclable in Ireland? That means that we dispose of over 22,000 takeaway cups almost every hour. While the compostable alternatives are not always a better option. Compostable coffee cups will only compost if they are disposed of in a bin that is sent to an industrial composter. In fact, if these cups are put into the general waste bin, they will produce methane gas (20 times worse than CO2) if they end up being sent to landfill. If you opt for this single-use cup option, you’ll need to provide an on-site compost bin and arrange disposal in order to ensure their being disposed of in the most sustainable way.
In the current climate, to ensure customers feel safe when using their reusable cup, the Conscious Cup Campaign Ireland have developed their contactless coffee system and have been highlighting cafés and restaurants that are encouraging customers to bring their reusable cups.
Here’s how the contactless coffee system works:
- The customer brings their own clean reusable cup & holds onto their lid
- When placing an order, they advise the barista that they have their own reusable
- Customer then places their cup on a pre-marked spot on a table/tray and steps back
- The barista prepares the drink inside the cafe in a reusable cup or jug
- If the order is coffee, the barista will keep the coffee shot and milk elements separate
- The barista then pours the drink into the cup, without any contact with the cup
- Barista steps back and customer steps forward taking their coffee away to be enjoyed
See how the contactless coffee system works with this video
If you’re accepting reusable cups in your café or restaurant contact Conscious Cup here and let them know to have your business added to the list
[Source: Conscious Cup Campaign]
Do you have any other suggestions to add to the list for sustainable packaging?
Let us know in the comments below!
SUSTAINABILITY SERIES SUPPORTED BY BUNZL MCLAUGHLIN
Bunzl McLaughlin is the leading supplier of non-food catering supplies to businesses across Ireland, specializing in providing a reliable service and delivering value, quality and innovation to their customers. With over 5,000 items in stock available for next-day delivery, plus access to over 50,000 additional products, Bunzl McLaughlin has everything necessary to equip restaurants, pubs, cafes, hotels, and more.