Shocking sights of the effect of plastic on marine wildlife in the BBC documentary The Blue Planet and similar images elsewhere have woken the world to the need to do something about the vast amount of plastic used and discarded. Until recently, much of the plastic that Europeans generate went to China, but with China now banning the import of foreign recyclable material, the problem is firmly in the hands of the EU.
The aim of the EU is to ensure that all plastic is reusable or recyclable by 2030. It is making an investment of €350m (about £308m) in research to modernise plastics production and is considering taxes against environmentally harmful behaviour. This has big implications for the food industry, where single-use plastics are common.
For many in the food industry, dealing with plastic can be a daunting prospect, but several minor changes can soon add up to make a significant difference in the amount of single-use plastic used.
People use plastic straws for a matter of minutes before they discard them, but these items take centuries to break down. Choose metal, paper or bamboo straws for a reusable and easily degradable option. Encourage customers to drink their hot beverages from reusable cups by offering a discount if they bring their own. As you will save money by not buying so many disposable cups, this discount will not cost you anything.
Think about products not directly used in food production but still found in kitchens up and down the country. Use a refillable soap dispenser or opt for bar soap rather than using plastic soap dispensers by the sinks on your premises. Also consider the bin liners that you use. These are almost always plastic, although biodegradable alternatives are available. Cling film is trickier to replace. There is a beeswax alternative, or you may find reusable containers that can do the same job to protect your food.
When purchasing items in plastic containers, check the small print to make sure that it is a plastic that you can recycle. You can also encourage your suppliers to reduce the amount of plastic that they use to deliver your products by using, for example, reusable crates. Using reusable plastic containers in the kitchen is not so bad, but as they can often impart a plasticky taste to food, this could be a good time to swap them for stainless steel containers.
PSL will continue to monitor the new guidelines and how they affect both our clients and our suppliers, bringing any further news as it arises. We will also continue to support our clients in a number of other ways, such as cost-saving measures and the creation of allergy-compliant menus using the “What’s in my dish?” service.
The need to tackle plastic is important both for the food industry and the entire world. If people do nothing, then we could end up with more plastic in the sea than fish, and it will find its way into the food chain, affecting the quality of the seafood that we eat.