6 ways to tackle ocean plastic

6 ways for food & drink establishments to tackle ocean plastic

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It’s time to re-think disposable plastic.

Don’t you think it’s strange that our culture of convenience has made it acceptable to serve food and drink that is perishable encased in plastic packaging and serve-ware that is designed to last forever?

Single-use plastic is destined to languish in the landfill for centuries, or worse, end up in the ocean where it will choke, entangle and poison birds and wildlife, eventually breaking down into tiny toxic particles that enter our food chain.

Observe the daily volumes we get through, and it doesn’t take a genius to realise that if we don’t change our ways it will soon be us drowning in a sea of disposable plastic.

plastic bottle on beach

Recycling is not the plastic pollution solution it seems. Of the small percentage that is successfully captured, most is down-cycled – so your recycled plastic bottle becomes a fleece or a carpet whilst more fossil fuels are drilled to create your next plastic bottle.

As more of us become aware of the negative impact our throwaway lifestyle is having on the state of our precious oceans, there’s a growing movement to use less plastic.

If you’re the owner or manager of a food and drink establishment, you have the power to significantly reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste created by your business.

Be a leader in your local area, and in your sector.

You’ll appeal to eco-friendly customers whilst raising awareness among those who haven’t woken up to the problem yet too.

We’ve identified 6 key ways that food and drink establishments can tackle the problem of ocean plastic…

1. Stop serving drinks with plastic straws

Plastic straws are one of the most common items of marine litter picked up on beaches around the world. The US alone gets through over 500 million straws every single day! Yet, straws take centuries to break down in the sea, and in the meantime can cause pain and suffering in marine wildlife, such as this unfortunate sea turtle.

You can help tackle the problem by:

  • Stop offering straws altogether
  • Only offering a straw when a customer requests it – to drastically reduce usage
  • Only offering sustainable alternatives (such as paper straws or reusable straws)

2. Offer to refill reusable bottles for free

Plastic water bottles are a blight on our beaches and in our oceans. The Marine Conservation Society’s 2015 Beachwatch survey identified 159 plastic bottles for every mile of beach surveyed across the UK. Plastic bottles take up to 450 years to break down, in the meantime posing a threat to our environment and wildlife.

A recent report found that British embarrassment over asking for tap water is fuelling plastic bottle waste.

You can show you welcome people coming into your establishment to ask to refill their reusable water bottle (regardless of whether they plan to make a purchase) by joining the Refill scheme – displaying a Refill sticker in your window and having your business added to the app.

Help reduce plastic water bottle pollution by:

  • Promoting ‘Refill your reusable bottle here’ – tap water
  • Only selling drinks bottled in glass, which is easy to recycle, or compostable materials

plastic bottles at soar mill cove

3. Encourage BYO reusables, charge extra for single-use

A recent study found that a plastic bag-style fee could cut disposable coffee cup use by up to 300 million a year.

The research highlighted how we are more sensitive to losses than gains, so rather than rewarding customers who bring their reusable cups, it is more effective to charge 25p extra for every disposable coffee cup.

Making reusable cups available for purchase in store, and having signage to underline the eco-friendly messages also helped to reduce coffee cup waste.

Help encourage BYO reusables by:

  • Charging extra for customers who require a disposable cup/bag
  • Always asking ‘Have you brought your own cup/bag?’ (challenging our current ‘norm’)

4. No more single-serving plastic sachets

Swapping out single-serve sachets for full-size condiments will significantly reduce the plastic litter generated by your establishment.

Customers find plastic sachets fiddly, often using several per serving because the portions aren’t quite large enough. The lightweight empty sachets then easily blow off plates and out of bins, onto nearby beaches and waterways. Ketchup sachets regularly feature in our #2minutebeachcleans on our favourite local beaches.

Reduce plastic sachet litter by:

  • Providing full-size bottles and jars of condiments for your customers to use
  • Ideally choosing glass (most easily recycled) but even full-size plastic bottles are preferable to sachets

2 Minute Beach Clean at Torcross

5. Make single-use items ‘certified compostable’

Although we always prefer to reuse, being realistic, it is unlikely that the majority of the population will be persuaded to carry their reusable bottles, cups, straws, utensils, bags and food containers with them every time they want to purchase food and drink on-the-go.

However, the fact remains that if we are going to say something is ‘disposable’, it stands to reason that it should be made from a material that will break down safely in the environment in a relatively short space of time.

The best lessons for dealing with waste can be taken from how nature – designing disposable items that once they are no longer required, harmlessly break down returning their nutrients to the soil – a true circular economy.

There is much confusion between the terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’. To be truly eco-friendly option must be ‘certified compostable‘ meaning it will break down in around 12 weeks.

Make your single-use items sustainable by:

  • Offering certified compostable plastic disposables made from plants instead of fossil fuels
  • Choosing from the many innovative suppliers, including Vegware and London Bio Packaging

6. Ask customers to compost their compostables

There is still a widespread lack of knowledge about what to do with compostable disposables after use.

In order to reap their eco-benefits, it’s important to separate them from normal plastic waste.

The beauty of using compostable plastic food and drink disposables is that they can go into the compost bins along with all the other food waste (where industrial/high-temperature facilities are available – this includes most kerbside council compost collections).

However, it’s really important not to mix up normal plastic with the compostable plastic, as this will contaminate your compost with plastic.

It’s also important to know that compostable plastic in the sea is just as harmful as normal plastic. It needs the right conditions (heat and oxygen) to break down quickly and harmlessly. Likewise, if it ends up in landfill, it will also not be fulfilling it’s eco-potential.

Help make compostable disposables a success by:

  • Making it clear that you are providing compostable disposables
  • Educating your customers on what to do with them when they throw them away
    (ideally put in a council collected compost bin, or a ‘hot’ home compost)
  • Providing compost bins/composting signage on your premises too

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