Reducing Plastic Packaging to help the Environment

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Reducing waste can play a major part in improving the environment. In the quick serve industry there is a welcome trend in using more environmentally friendly materials to package their products. Using less plastic is an important part of reducing pollution in our cities and towns and cleaning up our oceans.

Plastic production only really took off around 1950 so there is a ‘mere’ 9.2 billion tons of it to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin—a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017. It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.


Traditional Chippers in Ireland would have used newspapers, grease proof paper and brown paper bags for their food so would not be reliant on plastic historically, but newer food outlets would tend to use more polystyrene and other plastics for their packaging. Thankfully the trend is for reducing this in favour of more biodegradable materials.

Supermarkets are a major offender with plastic packaging but they are responding to consumer demand for less plastic. Lidl have taken to putting their bananas in a paper binding ring instead of plastic and the other big brands are introducing similar schemes.

Fish and Chips

Newspapers as wrapping for Fish and Chips was an elegant early example of recycling but with newspaper sales falling other eco-friendly wrapping is in demand. There are many packaging companies that provide biodegradable products for the quick serve sector.

One example of an Irish business that recognises the public’s interest in sustainability is Beshoff’s – a Howth-based fish and chip chain – They state ‘We are committed to being environmentally responsible, through the use recyclable packaging and reconstituting our waste oil into bio-diesel’

In the UK companies like Yorkshire based Fusco’s are also committed to using fully compostable packaging in all their shops.

Eco-friendly packaging is used for takeaway meals in all of their MSC Certified restaurants, items include everything from cardboard takeaway boxes and wrapping, to compostable knives, forks, straws, coffee cups and lids.

The company is also encouraging its suppliers to stop using single-use and non-recyclable plastics, by requesting that where possible all of its ingredients, including freshly caught fish supplied locally, are delivered in either reusable or recyclable containers.

Owner of Fusco’s of Whitby, Carol Fusco, comments: “As a business we are committed to ensuring that we do what we can to lower our impact on the environment and marine life. With advances in packaging manufacturing and a rise in public awareness about the negative effects that plastic has on the environment, there really is no need to be using non-biodegradable plastic catering disposables.”

She adds: “The town’s reputation for fish and chips, along with the stunning scenery, is part of what draws tourists here to Whitby. We need to look after it, especially with so many takeaways portions served along the coast every day. We hope that we can encourage other food businesses in the area to follow suit and opt for more environmentally friendly takeaway packaging, if they don’t already do so.”

The Big Chains

Most if not all of the big Quick Serve chains are now committed to using recyclable packaging instead of plastic packaging.

Taco Bell, KFC & Pizza Hut – these three giant multi-branch chains are part of the same company – Yum Brands Inc. The whole group is dedicated to reducing waste through biodegradable packaging, conserving water and boosting energy efficiency. They also source all their ingredients sustainably including their palm oil.

McDonald’s – America’s favourite fast food chain recently announced that are committed to eliminate foam packaging. With a business as big as the ‘Golden Arches’ that’s good in itself but they are doubling down by committing to sourcing 100 percent of their packaging from renewable or recycled sources by 2025.

As Starbucks has seen with their paper coffee cups, proper recycling requires appropriate infrastructure, regulations and consumer behaviour. With restaurants in more than 100 countries and territories around the world, McDonald’s has a big job but if the world’s biggest quick serve is committed to sustainability, others will follow suit..

Chipotle – This Mexican chain has always been at the forefront of this trend and they try and keep waste at a minimum by letting their suppliers know they’d like their shipments packed with as little extra padding — like cardboard — as possible. They train their employees to be mindful when preparing their food, so as to create as little waste as possible. Along with recycling their cardboard packaging they reduce waste by recycling their used equipment and furniture rather than sending them to the landfill. Chipotle donated more than 75 grills and 315 food processors to local schools, nonprofits and other organizations in 2014.

Deliveroo – the fast-growing delivery service is getting in on the act too. Deliveroo has announced that they will be giving away 100,000 biodegradable greaseproof papers to their restaurant partners so that customers who order pizza can now recycle its boxes.

The move comes after a poll revealed that 58% of Brits think that pizza boxes can still be recycled even when there’s grease on it. But the food aggregator argued that having grease on the recycling bin disrupts the recycling chain.

“Many people are surprised to find out how the food from your pizza can hinder your ability to recycle the box after you have eaten. We hope by working with our partners to make this small change and by helping informing consumers, we will save your pizza box from landfill,” says Deliveroo UK and Ireland managing director Dan Warne.

Nestle – the giant Swiss-based multi-national is starting to drop plastic straws from its products and is working on biodegradable water bottles in a drive to reduce plastic waste. These steps are part of a campaign launched last year by firms including the Swiss group, the world’s biggest packaged food company, to make all packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.

Nestlé is developing new paper-based materials and biodegradable polymers that are also recyclable. “This could become a valuable option in places where recycling infrastructure does not yet exist and will not be available for some time,” it said in a statement.

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