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Plastic isn’t fantastic: the Blue Planet II legacy lives on

Blue Planet Blog Food Alert

 

As a hospitality operator, it’s highly unlikely that you haven’t felt the ‘Attenborough effect’ on your business in the past couple of years. But if you haven’t yet taken steps, since the award-winning broadcaster’s Blue Planet II highlighted the environmental need to reduce single-use plastic, then the time is very much now.

The issue has again been in the spotlight following BBC One’s ‘Blue Planet Live’ in March and the ‘Blue Planet II Live in Concert’ that has recently toured around the UK featuring film sequences from the award-winning TV series.

The impact plastic pollution can have on our oceans highlighted in the 2017 series, led to the issue not only being brought to the fore in living rooms around the UK but also in company boardrooms, with many retailers and food service businesses since taking steps to reduce the amount of single-use plastic consumed in their businesses.

Plastic straw and stirrers ban from 2020

Legislation around single-use plastic is now on its way for the UK, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirming this month a ban on plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds from April 2020. Exemptions will be included to ensure those with disabilities or medical needs have access to straws, which will be sold in registered pharmacies and allowed to be provided on request by catering establishments.

Potential EU legislation impact

With the ongoing uncertainty regarding Brexit, it is possible, although not certain, that further EU legislation would also apply to the UK if a directive is made before our exit from the EU is complete. If the UK is impacted by the legislation, which would come in to effect from 2021, as well as the complete ban of single-use plastic products, the use of plastics for which no alternatives currently exists (mainly food packaging) would also need to be reduced by 25% by 2025 and action would have to be taken by 2025 to collect and recycle 90% of beverage bottles.

Not just a worthy thing to do

But legislation or not, reducing the use of plastic in your business makes strong business sense with research, by sustainability consultancy Futerra, showing that if a brand isn’t helping consumers improve their environmental and social footprint then they’re in danger of disappointing 88% of them. Findings by workplace benefits specialist Umum in its ‘Future Workplace Report 2018’ highlights that 59% of people want to work for a company with a powerful social conscience. So if sustainability issues aren’t increasingly on your companies’ agenda then you risk losing customers and potential employees to competitors who ‘are’ focusing on them.

Sustainability champions

Although there have been some amazing hospitality operators championing sustainability issues for many years, including retailer and café Planet Organic, who opened its first site in 1995 and now offers an ‘Unpackaged’ concept in four of its seven London stores, it is only really since Blue Planet II that reducing single use plastic has been on the agenda of many more hospitality operators.

The Last Straw campaign

Oakman Inns, led the way in banning plastic straws in the hospitality industry with J D Wetherspoons, Carluccio’s, Wagamama, Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Yo Sushi, Hawksmoor, Rosa’s Thai and Burger King among some of the many operators that followed suit, leading to thousands of sites removing them from their businesses. Azzuri Group’s Coco di Mama is among operators who have replaced plastic with pasta straws which are completely compostable.

At Oakman Inns, they not only removed their plastic straws but turned them into a ‘Giant Green Man’ sculpture to help highlight the issue, this is now displayed in one of its pubs. The company has also undertaken other initiatives such as using pizza boxes, coffee cups and food containers made from a vegetable-based compostable material.

Reusables is a focus for Azzuri

Azzuri Group has reviewed how they can reduce plastic use including at its quick service coffee and food-to-go business Coco di Mama. Initiatives have included the introduction of a 25p discount on hot drinks for customers bringing reusable cups, launching its own reusable not-for-profit keep cups and offering free water and glasses in stores to help customers’ avoid the need to buy plastic bottles.

Supplier action

At bar operator Darwin & Wallace, winner of the ‘Best Sustainable Pub Company’ in the Publican Awards 2019, they’ve committed their suppliers to take packaging back with them if not delivered in reusable containers.

Reverse vending machines

Healthy fast-food operator Leon uses plastic free cups and bioplastic cutlery and has partnered with waste management firm Veolia to install a reverse vending machine to encourage consumers to recycle at London’s King’s Cross station. Recyclers are given a voucher for 10% off the bill at the brand’s St Pancras Square site.

Clingfilm crackdown

In April, Skye Gyngell’s London restaurant Spring hosted a pop-up with retailer Plastic Freedom to help diners learn how to reduce plastic in their lives. Spring has pledged to become one of London’s first plastic free restaurants with measures taken including replacing clingfilm with beeswax wrapping.

Ode True Food in Devon,  winner of the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ award in The Sustainable Restaurant Association’s ‘Food Made Good Awards’ has got drastic on plastic by setting up a purchasing co-op with other local businesses to buy plant-based alternatives to plastic at competitive prices.

So whether you want to do it for your planet, your business or both, the crackdown on single-use plastic reduction isn’t going to go away so, if you haven’t already, it’s time to step up your action on this and other ways to be more sustainable now.