How Fast Food Professionals can Utilise Sustainable Packaging

By - John Haken, Director at WF Denny

Since the advent of disposable tableware and the subsequent rise of the takeaway, the British public have been used to the convenience of being able to consume restaurant quality meals in the comfort of their own homes. The introduction of delivery apps, such as Uber Eats, Just Eat or Deliveroo, means that most food outlets are now able to offer a takeaway option.

It has been suggested that as a nation, we use enough takeaway cartons per year to fill the Royal Albert Hall 1,000 times. The Albert Hall is around 86,650 cubic metres and at an average weight for mixed takeaway container this would suggest that around 3 million tonnes of packaging is used annually in the takeaway industry. Most of this is discarded to landfill.

When we’re thinking about tackling climate change and reducing plastic at home and work, it’s clear that there is a significant societal change that needs to occur before we can begin to rely less on plastics. Food outlets and restaurants offering a takeaway option should lead the change by making use of sustainable packaging wherever possible and encouraging customers to be mindful of how they are disposing of their packaging.

Takeaway of the year

British Takeaway of the Year awards, created by Just Eat, has recently selected 15 of Britain’s best takeaways. Most of the takeaways on the list had ‘eco-credentials’, championing sustainability and plastic reduction, including S&S Kitchen in Aylesbury which uses no plastic and Nacho Cheese which took the prize for ‘Britain’s Best Takeaway’ and uses only compostable and biodegradable packaging.

Chris’ Fish N Chips in Barwell took the judge’s Game Changer award, for ‘leading the way in sustainability’ as they have removed plastic packaging, recycle used oil and food waste, and improve the community by litter picking,

With environmental factors so prevalent in the grading of each takeaway, it’s clear that the UK public have a healthy appetite for sustainability and want to shop with a restaurant or takeaway that cares about the local community as well as the wider environment.

Container options for your takeaway

It’s possible to change the materials we’re using and replace plastics, but the sustainable packaging industry is still evolving, so there are limitations. Currently, compostable hot food containers are available, such as bagasse containers which are made of pulped sugar cane, but there are issues restricting their use.

Bagasse, for example, can’t be used for liquid foods, as the fibres are absorbent and lose their rigidity. Other issues include recyclability - you can offer a card takeaway box with a plastic lining, but the recycling facilities that can deal with this kind of product are not as widely available as they should be.

If mixed material recycling is invested in and brought in to household recycling then this could present a realistic alternative, but it does require significant investment in household recycling by the government and local councils.

Customers want a takeaway container that can be easily and honestly recycled. Offering a sustainable packaging option is a good way to show that your company is a local champion for sustainability and that you’re catering for the desire for eco-friendly options.

Here are our top tips for becoming a sustainable takeaway provider:

- Gradually reducing plastics and committing to not using single use plastics within your business shows consumers that you’re on the right path. This won’t necessarily alienate customers - a 2015 Nielson report revealed that 66% of customers would be happy to pay more for a product that comes from a sustainable brand.

- Becoming a community leader for sustainability is a great way to offer more value to customers and the local area. Suggest events like litter picking that bring the community together around your business.

- Getting involved with other business leaders to encourage recycling shows customers that your business is an active voice in the local sustainability movement.

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