Innovate Blog
Sustainable Future: The importance of an effective waste management system.

Monday May 20, 2019

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

It will not have escaped anyone’s notice that the news throughout April has been dominated by the environment.  News programmes, keen to fill a Brexit sized gap in their schedules, have been focusing on the direct climate change action groups in London and Greta Thunberg’s compelling and straight-talking commentary about the action our politicians should be taking.

Editors have been looking for their own angles and the business news has been no exception. In a recent BBC interview with a retail expert about the successes of fast fashion, the main thrust of the conversation quickly moved to sustainability.  Another news item focused solely on how shops can take a more responsible approach to till receipts.  Small changes that can make a difference are being discussed on a national platform and there is now increasing scrutiny not only from the media but a real drive for transparency and clear answers from the public.

At Bunzl Catering Supplies (BCS) we are working hard with our customers in the catering and hospitality industry to find the most sustainable options for their foodservice packaging products.  However, as the media catches up with our own drive for sustainability it is worth reflecting on a question that our customers often ask at our Sustainable Future customer forums, which is – what is the most important and most immediate change we can make in our business to affect positive environmental change?

The answer to this is simple – take a close look at your waste management system. Getting packaging items into the right bins is essential, because done right it means that valuable resources are recaptured for future use. Food packaging plays a vital part the safe transportation,  presentation and storage of food, so building a systemic approach to how we handle food packaging at its end of life is critical, so we can avoid waste and reclaim the value in a material that is otherwise lost.

Over the Easter break I witnessed several beach clean initiatives taking place in the South West of England.  These valuable initiatives are helping to keep our coastlines tidy and keep plastics out of our oceans and should be applauded. However, the best solution is always prevention and one answer to this is to ensure that the everyday packaging used in a foodservice environment enter the right waste streams, uncontaminated and in the best shape possible for waste collection. Waste managed properly has the potential to find its way back into production for new foodservice products.

We work hard with our customers to find the right products and then work with them to understand how to dispose of the products in the best possible way.  With increasing scrutiny from media and consumers around this subject, it is vital that decisions are made based on the right information rather than assumptions about how materials are likely to break down.   There is much greater focus around materials now and a better understanding of how important matching the right product with the best waste stream is.  A recent survey at the University of Plymouth highlighted the fact that biodegradable and compostable materials were surviving intact for significant periods of time when not disposed of properly.   Helping our customers choose the right materials and products has always been at the heart of our Sustainable Future programme.  Consulting and advising on the lifecycle of packaging products and helping our customers get them into the right waste streams is now just as important.

To increase the chances of getting food packaging waste into clean, segregated waste streams, we recommend following this three step guide:

  1. Understand what your waste provider can and cannot do: Work with us and choose a range of packaging products made from one type of material that are likely to be recycled by your waste provider.
  2. Put your bins in the right place and in the right order: Ensuring bins are placed together, in clear sight and in convenient places for your customers and staff  will increase recycling rates.  Putting them in a logical order will make it easier and reduce contamination.
  3. Show – don’t tell: Don’t make your customers of staff read a complicated list of what packaging product can go in which bin – make it easy to do the right thing by using simple visual aids to direct people to the right bin.