Innovate Blog
Dealing with plastic packaging responsibly

Friday December 16, 2016

Ask the Expert: Jo Gilroy (Head of Sustainability).

We asked our Sustainability expert ‘What are some of the proactive steps that food operators can take to deal with plastic packaging responsibly?’

And here’s what she told us…


Sustainability Expert - Jo Gilroy Twitter - @JoannaGilroy

Sustainability Expert – Jo Gilroy Twitter – @JoannaGilroy

This year our industry witnessed scrutiny over the recyclability of coffee cups by national media groups and Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s War Against Waste campaign.  Many of us will never forget that morning back in March when an iconic red London bus drove around our capital, covered in coffee cups and calling on all to wake up and smell the waste.  Since that day the industry has made significant strides, working together to improve the recyclability of paper cups, from ratifying the paper cup Manifesto, increased membership to the Paper Cup Recovery & Recycling Group, and the Hubbub recycling trial in Manchester.  At Bunzl Catering Supplies we continue to actively promote and support the adoption of the Simply Cups Scheme by our customers.   Yet, an important question we need to be asking ourselves as we approach the beginning of a new year is whether coffee cups will be unique in receiving such media attention?


The answer is unlikely.  The packaging industry is at the forefront of the battle to reduce waste.  The use of packaging is integrated into most aspects of modern life and often plays an important role in minimising our environmental impact, such as increasing the shelf life of fresh produce.  Consequently, as our population and industry has grown over the decades, so too has our use of different packaging materials.  One material in particular leading the growth spurt is plastics.  In 1964 global plastic production was at 15 million tonnes.  It has since mushroomed to 311 million tonnes in 2015.  Unfortunately, our increased production of plastics over recent years has coincided with an unhelpful cultural shift, increased littering and disillusionment with recycling.
The result is that far too much plastic packaging is ending up in ocean environments and in the countryside.  Tackling the tonnes of plastic filtering into our oceans every year has become the primary focus of a number of proactive businesses and non-governmental organisations.  However, it is vital to remember that plastics do not cause plastic to pollute our environment, people do.  Our disposal habits create the problem and we must take proactive steps now.
For some products, knowing what to recycle is easy, but for plastic packaging this can be a bewildering experience.  Below are some tried and tested strategies to help businesses take those first, vital proactive steps and deal with plastic packaging responsibly:
Step 1:  Talk to your waste management provider.  Find out which plastic products they can actually recycle and whether it would be helpful to have a separate plastics bin.  Find out where your plastic material is being sent for recycling and physically go there.  You will be amazed what you will learn by visiting a recycling plant.


Step 2:  Switch to widely recyclable plastic materials types, such as PET.  PET is the only plastic type which can be recycled back into food grade products and create a closed loop system.


Step 3:  Get creative on engaging your staff.  It is not enough to simply put a recycling bin out and hope that people will use it.  Set a recycling target for your business to work towards.  Run a series of focus groups educating people as to what plastic products you want to see in your recycling bin.  Inject a bit of fun into your recycling habits by organising recycling challenges and games.  You will be amazed at how effective a speed recycling competition is between departments.


Step 4:  Feedback.  It is important to communicate with staff the impact of their efforts on a regular basis.  Put up eye catching notice boards and/or table talkers to make visible the positive impact your efforts are having.


Step 5:  Celebrate your champions.  People enjoy feeling valued and positive reinforcement is a vital ingredient for behaviour change.  Identify those members of staff going the extra mile and make sure they are recognised.


Step 6:  Know where to turn for support.  At Bunzl Catering Supplies, we work in partnership with our customers to help them develop effective recycling systems.


It is time to roll up our sleeves and get cracking so that 2017 sees our achievements celebrated.