catering industry

As the world wakes up to the impact we’re having on the environment, consumers are demanding businesses take action. From a much-publicised move against plastic straws to utilising compostable waste, going green means big changes to the way the catering industry operates

Eco-friendliness in catering

The catering industry has been heavily scutinised following the shift in public opinion toward sustainability. As demand for eco-friendly catering equipment has increased, manufacturers have listened.

According to WRAP, a charity that works to reduce waste in businesses and communities, restaurants produce 915,000 tonnes of waste annually, with food waste costing the sector £682 million a year.

Across the industry as a whole, around, 3,415,000 tonnes of food waste are produced a year in the UK, which contribute to approximately 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions on landfill sites. Considering the dependence of the catering industry on food packaging and drink receptabes – some of which are made from unrecyclable materials – there is an urgent need for change.

Calls for a ban on the sale of plastic cutlery and plates will prompt a major re-think for many street food and takeaway ventures.

Not only will the charge for plastic bags in every shop rise to 10p, which could annoy customers, but the ban on plastic straws and stirrers will also force establishments to consider alternatives.

In January 2018, the ‘latte levy’ was introduced to tackle the widespread use of disposable cups. The 25p charge on all throwaway drink receptacles was in response to the revelation that the UK disposes 2.5 billion of this type of cup a year — almost 50% of which aren’t recycled.

Whether the levy was the right move is uncertain, but clearly something needed to be done. So, what can catering business owners do to ‘go green’ in 2018 and beyond?

How to run a greener catering company

There is plenty of opportunity for catering professionals when it comes to adopting greener processes, products and practices.

Gaining on oversight of operations

A recent guide into sustainability in the restaurant sector highlighted the best-performing eateries with regard to animal rights, use of palm oil, supply chain maintenance and company ethos. This shows how much pressure the industry is under to be ethical and emphasises the need for catering companies to look at multiple aspects of eco-friendliness — from where they source their food to how they get rid of their waste.

Business owners should take time to look at each stage of their business operations. Is there a closer farm that they can get the bulk of their fresh produce from to cut carbon emissions from transporting goods? Are they selling fair-trade coffee? Are they swapping plastic forks for biodegradable alternatives? Could they serve smaller portions or offer a take-away option to cut food waste?

Only by having an oversight of processes can a catering business make changes where they will have the greatest eco-friendly impact — why waste money on amending part of a business when more positive changes can be invested in elsewhere?

Recyclable products

According to Nisbets’ latest pulse survey, which surveyed 600 UK catering industry professionals, 72% of those in the sector are likely to buy eco-friendly or compostable products throughout 2018. However, 58% claim not to advertise if they already offer these types of products — but this could be a great mistake.

Eco-friendliness appears to be an important attribute from a customer perspective. Reportedly, 93% of people asked as part of a survey would pay an extra 2.5p for a plastic bottle made of recycled materials, while 80% believe nonrecyclable packaging should be banned from supermarkets. To prosper in this environment-focused atmosphere, it’s important that catering companies not only begin offering recyclable products, but that they also promote this fact to attract environmentally-aware customers.

Phasing out plastic

It’s clear that the materials used to make food and drink receptacles and cutlery will play a large role in the eco-friendly rating of catering companies in the future. The first step catering firms should take is phasing out their use of soon-to-be banned materials, as this will give them time to search for low-cost alternatives before demand spikes. Take inspiration from other brands that are making changes in this area — such as London-based vegan restaurant, Tibits, which has started offering customers reusable bowls that they can use in the brand’s eateries to save on waste.

Tech help

Certain companies will know that they need to make changes, but perhaps not to what extent. Technology can help. The Unilever ‘wise-up on waste’ app lets professionals see how much they waste, which could help them determine which part of the catering process they need to focus on.

Cutting waste

Sometimes, small changes, make a big different to the enviornment. Cafes, restaurants and pop-up businesses can agree with local food banks to deliver ingredients to them that would otherwise have been thrown out, reducing food waste and supporting a great cause. Implementing a paperless system, such as using tablets to take customer orders, will also play a role in increased sustainability.

Type of menus

According to the previously mentioned Nisbets survey, many professionals believe that locally-sourced produce and vegan options are popular trends in 2018. Fortunately, these also offer eco-friendly advantages. Meat production is eco-intensive, while harvesting and gathering plants for meatless meals deliver a less harmful impact on the environment. Business owners could capitalise on the growing trend for veganism and ensure an eco-friendlier operation by switching a selection of their menus’ meat dishes for vegan-friendly alternatives.

Running a green building

There are also ways to make buildings greener within the sector. For example, swap to light-efficient lightbulbs, make sure everything is turned off after closing, buy energy-efficient kitchen appliances, switch to reusable instead of paper towels in customer toilets, and install furniture made from recycled materials when it’s time to redecorate. Also, install a smart meter to gain accurate insight into how your premises is using energy and where you need to make changes. Finally, commit to recycling by placing a company-wide drive to recycling by placing bins for different materials outside near your general refuse receptacles.

Clearly, the pressure is on for catering professionals to ensure that their businesses are operating with their carbon footprints in mind. But fortunately, there are multiple ways that those in the sector can become greener without impacting negatively on their processes or profits.

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