Innovate Blog
Sustainable Future: The Circular Economy and what it means for how we work together.

Tuesday June 18, 2019

An Innovate blog by Justin Turquet – Head of Sustainability for Bunzl Catering Supplies.

Last month saw a raft of consultations go into Government which broadly cover how we will approach Waste and Resources in this country over the coming decades.  Much of it is informed by EU legislation that is looking to address marine pollution and the added responsibilities manufactures and producers of plastic will be expected to take on.

As well as announcing ambitious, world leading targets around carbon neutrality, the UK Government has also taken consultations on its plan to introduce a tax on plastic packaging.

The results of these consultations are due to be published later in the summer and should offer our customers in the catering and hospitality industry clarity around their approach to materials and the best way for us to work together to deliver value while focusing on material responsibility.

A key part of the language the EU, DEFRA and Treasury are using centers on the Circular Economy.  In his forward to Defra’s waste and resource management document, Michael Gove focusses on Dame Ellen Macarthur’s experiences at sea and how they informed her approach to sustainability which led to her becoming one of the most prominent supporters of the Circular Economy.

Treasury and the EU also talk about moving towards a circular model.  So it is not unreasonable to think that the language around sustainability will become further entwined with Circular models, material responsibility and moving away from a linear approach of “take, make, dispose”, replacing it with an approach to materials that mimic living systems and aims to recapture the value of the materials we use that are often lost when we have finished using them.

But what does this mean for our customers, suppliers and our people?  Understanding how we might move away from a linear approach to a circular one is much more complicated than it may appear.  Developing a systemic, circular approach to packaging will involve a wide range of stakeholders across a range of different industries.

I was invited to join a panel at an industry event recently.  It included representatives from manufacturing, waste management and pressure groups.  We reflected on the fact that packaging provides value by delivering our food in a safe, hygienic and appealing way.  It is a vital component of food service and the way that we consume it.  In an increasingly busy world where we live in smaller spaces, the ability to eat well on the go is a vital part of our lives.  The ability to buy appropriate portion sizes is also crucial.  Dismissing packaging as unnecessary and easily avoided ignores an inconvenient truth around the alternatives and their end of life solutions.

What was encouraging about the Government consultations was that they were asking for opinions around the whole life cycle of materials, including waste collection services.  Providing consistent waste streams across our nation is crucial to developing a system that allows Bunzl Catering Supplies and operators in the catering and hospitality industry to make the right decisions around materials because there is a clear pathway at end of life.  The message here is that a move towards a circular economy will include all materials including polymers.

Consistency in messaging and collections are vital, this is particularly important when informing consumers about how best to recycle after use.  The BBC reported on data from WRAP that showed 47% of people say they disagree at home about what should and shouldn’t go in their plastic recycling.  In another study 8 out of 10 people said they were confused about what they could and couldn’t recycle.  This is not surprising when there are over 400 different authorities managing waste collections in the UK leading to 39 different approaches to collections and recycling.

When managing a national estate, it becomes a confusing picture that needs careful and considered understanding of how best to manage material flows while providing the best solutions for operators and their consumers.

At Bunzl Catering Supplies, as part of our Sustainable Future programme, we are having more discussions around this subject with our customers and with an increasingly broad range of stakeholders involved in the conversation.  By developing a clearer picture of the whole system, from design to end of life, we can provide the best advice and understand the most sustainable options for our customers.  Marrying this with a careful use of data to help us understand how incoming legislation will affect the materials we use is also giving us a clearer picture of how to meet our customer’s needs.

In many of the organizations we work with there are sustainability experts and teams already working on strategy that understands the pressures and processes that is moving towards a more circular model.   Working with these teams and creating a considered and responsible approach to changes in legislation, greater knowledge about materials and pressure to provide more detailed and transparent information about how materials are recaptured is the best way to move forward and achieve these goals.

For more information about our Sustainable Future programme please view our Sustainable Future e-brochure.

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