It’s Time for Change
Billions of disposable takeout packaging is thrown away in the UK every year, some of this waste is recycled or ends up in landfill but large quantities of plastic food packaging waste makes its way into our environment having a devastating environmental impact in our streets, countryside and oceans.
The easy option is to grab your lunch or coffee to go encased in single use packaging. The big challenge is to change the we behave, it’s difficult to see the advantage of our actions if the consequences are not instantly beneficial. The same applies to government who are more focused on pleasing their voters in the short term (and remaining in office) than protecting the environment.
One way to overcome this is by appealing to emotions, we are more likely to take action when confronted with vivid examples of misery.
Sensible product design and clear sustainable messages are also necessary to change the way people think at the crucial moment of purchase.
I run a catering equipment distribution business, supplying viable, reusable alternatives to disposables. Four years ago, University of Chester piloted our reusable food takeout boxes made from recyclable polypropylene. To join the programme students/staff paid £3.50 giving them accountability. An Eco keyring was issued to participants and when they want to take food out of the dining area the keyring is exchanged for a reusable Eco to go food box. After use, the box is rinsed and returned to the food outlet to be washed hygienically and exchanged for the keyring or another to go box, creating a closed loop system. A loyalty card is issued offering a free meal after 10 uses, covering the initial cost of the box.
The first year was challenging with slow up take as people resisted change. Year two the hospitality team at the university took the brave step to withdraw all polystyrene takeout boxes and offer one choice – Eco to go containers. Through education and marketing, staff and students were empowered to embrace the increased sociability and positive effects this change would have on the environment and the reuse system was accepted as the norm. The potential impact of education and behavioural change in student communities could enable a deeper understanding of sustainability in tomorrows ‘leaders’ and future generations.
To date University of Chester have stopped over 200,000 disposables from going to landfill and saved thousands of £’s in the process. In 2016, the hospitality team won a TUCO Green Gown Award for their sustainability efforts.
In September last year, the head of hospitality at Chester University asked me to source a reusable to go cup to extend their sustainability to go scheme. After trialing a number of reusable cups, we opted for a cup made from rice husk a by-product of rice. Eco to go cups are 100% natural, can be reused hundreds of times and composted at end of life. The team at Chester launched Eco to go Cups in January 2017.
Annually, the world's rice production is approximately 500 million tons. Of this, the ratio of rice husk to rice is approximately 1:4, which is equivalent to about 125 million tons of rice husks produced each year which is usually incinerated. The burning of rice husks produces large amounts of carbon dioxide, which ultimately affects climate change. Rice husk is a durable source of green procurement generating a saleable by product for rural communities
Reusable to go systems are starting to become an ethical choice with a move towards this new way of consumerism, but there is still big resistance to change. We need to explore how products and services can evolve as a form of soft education, a daily nudge as an imbedded strategy for behavioural change, awareness, understanding, reflection, action and impact of lasting change.
Coffee shops in Freiburg, a southwest city in Germany are trialing a reusable cup scheme, where people pay a deposit for a multi-use cup on the purchase of their drink. When finished they can return the cup to any participating business and receive their deposit. Whilst larger chains are not currently willing to use an unbranded multi use cup which doesn’t promote their own brand, smaller coffee shops are working together and the scheme is proving very popular.
Research by Bewleys and Cardiff University claim that the use of disposable coffee cups could be reduced by 50–300 million annually in the UK. The research found that financial incentives, reusable alternatives, and clear messaging reminding customers of the environmental impact of single use coffee cups all had a direct impact on consumer behaviour and could increase reuse by 12.5%. The most notable finding was that, while a charge on disposable cups increased the use of reusable coffee cups, a discount on reusable coffee cups had no impact on their usage.
There’s no overnight solution to the problems we are currently facing with small format packaging. It's great to see so many great research articles submitted. Through working together, sharing stories and information we are already on our way towards a greener future.