We are all guilty of underestimating how much plastic we use in our personal lives, but this takes place in professional settings, too. When you stop to consider the impact, it is truly surprising how much plastic is used in restaurant and hotel kitchens.
From takeaway packaging to food storage containers and cling film… plastic is more present than you think. Even with the best recycling policies in place, it is still better for the planet — and for our health — to aim to make your kitchen a plastic-free environment.
Single-use plastic was destined to become a thing of the past. That is until the pandemic started to take hold in January 2020, and global priorities shifted. Plastic products that had fallen from grace just two years ago were suddenly resurrected to allow the restaurant industry to respect health measures and keep everyone safe.
For now, the ban on single-use plastics in professional kitchens is on hold, with public consultations due to begin this autumn. Despite this setback, we shouldn’t lose sight of the climate emergency on our doorstep, and how reducing the use of plastic can benefit customers, marketing strategies, and ultimately your bottom line.
If you want to be part of the zero plastic revolution, here are Brigad’s 10 practical tips for getting rid of plastic, once and for all!
Why reduce the use of plastic in kitchens?
As a population, we are well aware that plastic damages the planet and our health. But we often only have a vague idea of the tangible consequences that plastic can have on our bodies, our environment, and even our budgets.
Before we get to work, here is a reminder of some facts about plastic.
Plastic is bad for our health
A European parliamentary report from 2019 showed the real, damaging effects that plastic has on the human body. Plastic contains endocrine disruptors, substances known to alter how our hormonal system works, and are alarmingly dangerous for certain groups of people, like children and pregnant women.
While the UK bans the use of bisphenol A in products aimed at children, parts of the EU go further and ban its use in anything that comes into contact with food and drink for people of any age. But the parliamentary report highlighted the importance of going further still and banning single-use plastic altogether to avoid the toxic effects of these substances, which can impact several generations.
Plastic is harmful to our planet
Plastic is also a bigger contributor to polluting our environment than any other material. In the UK, 35.5 kilos of plastic waste are produced per person each year. In practice, plastic has a very short lifespan, and half of all plastic produced becomes waste in under 12 months.
For a long time, we thought that plastic pollution could be solved by ramping up efforts to recycle, but nowadays, we have to accept that this is not enough. National Geographic found that only nine per cent of plastic is actually recycled globally. This figure is all the more worrying as we don’t seem to be slowing down plastic production, with half of all resin and fibre used to make plastic having been produced in the last 13 years.
When plastic ends up in nature, it takes between 400 and 500 years to degrade, and it tends to break down into smaller pieces, making it very difficult to collect. These plastic particles risk polluting soils, waterways, and animals’ stomachs!
Plastic is heavy on the budget and your reputation
It is difficult to estimate the exact cost of all the plastic used in professional kitchens, but it is definitely a considerable amount. Replacing it with reusable and sustainable packaging or cutlery will therefore contribute to making a significant difference.
Plastic can also be a burden on your budget in a less direct way. A YouGov study carried out in 2019 revealed that 81% of Brits were actively trying to cut down on their personal plastic use. A considerable figure, which only emphasises the importance of meeting your clients’ expectations by adopting a zero plastic approach.
A step in this direction will also benefit your brand as an employer, and make recruiting new, loyal troops a lot easier.
Last call for single-use plastic
It is impossible to deny that time has been called on single-use plastics, and countries around the world are already making meaningful changes to legislation.
Since 3rd July 2021, certain single-use plastic items can no longer be sold in the EU. Take, for example, straws, stirrers, takeaway cups and lids.
In England, the pandemic may have delayed the banning of single-use plastics in restaurants, but the plans have since been outlined by the government. And since the early bird catches the worm, if you act now to ban plastic from your establishment, you will certainly reap the rewards later.
10 practical tips for a plastic-free hotel or restaurant
Now that we have all the arguments for ridding our kitchens of plastic, let’s see how to take those first steps.
To help you reach your zero-plastic target, here are Brigad’s top ten practical tips that you can start applying straight away!
1. Take inspiration from restaurant owners who have already achieved zero plastic
We already talked about the advantages of being first to the party, and being a pioneer in zero plastic can be a great way to stand out from the crowd.
It’s certainly a strategy that worked out for Mirazur. As well as saying farewell to plastic, the establishment was voted Best Restaurant in the World by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2019, which led to handsome media interest in the industry.
Mirazur’s zero plastic standard is certified by one of the various bodies set up to recognise this approach, such as Plastic Free, created by an Italian startup. This is an excellent marketing tool for showing your dedication to the cause and attracting more clients.
Mirazur’s chef, Luca Mattioli, has been sharing valuable advice on how to stop relying on plastic, such as storing food in stainless steel boxes or damp kitchen paper, and demanding that the restaurant’s suppliers only deliver in reusable or recyclable containers.
2. Use filtered tap water instead of plastic bottles
Bottled water is often the biggest use of plastic in a restaurant. As we now know, only four out of 10 empty water bottles will be recycled each year, and the environmental impact of transporting them from the source to the warehouse and then to you is not inconsequential.
The good news is that there are more eco-friendly alternatives. For example, installing a micro-filtered water fountain in your restaurant. Eauvation provides water taps that have the advantage of filtering chlorine and other rare particles and residue found in the water network.
3. Reimagine how your takeaway is offered
The takeaway was an alternative that saved numerous restaurants during lockdown. However, it does represent a considerable share of plastic used in kitchens. Other solutions are available to make takeaway more environmentally friendly.
For example, think about joining a deposit return scheme for packaging. Cauli Box is the UK’s first reusable container scheme for takeaway and deliveries. Another option would be to encourage your customers to bring their own containers. There are already many examples of schemes like this from across the pond, where restaurants offer a small discount to customers who participate.
A more original and innovative approach is edible packaging! Indeed, companies are already developing food and drink containers that you can eat, which is good for your environmental footprint as well as for your marketing strategy.
4. Optimise sourcing
The packaging of your supplies is also a huge contributor to the amount of plastic used in your kitchen. Like we saw earlier with the chef from Mirazur, asking your suppliers to make an effort to reduce plastic in deliveries can be beneficial.
However, you may not have the same negotiating power as a Michelin-starred restaurant, so you can always opt to buy loose fruit and vegetables by weight. This is a great way to reduce costs, food wastage, and eliminate traces of plastic in the food that you serve your customers.
5. Avoid single-measure and over-packaged products
Single-measure products, such as coffee pods or tea bags, can easily be replaced with reusable alternatives. For example, use a coffee grinder, or offer mugs instead of disposable cups.
Hotels have also joined the fight to reduce plastic waste. Like Mirazur, the EDITION Hotel in London became well-known for banning plastic throughout the property.
Instead of toiletries in small, plastic bottles, guest bathrooms are stocked with larger volumes and solid soap, with no packaging. Similarly, takeaway coffee lids have been switched from plastic to a hard cardboard alternative, and plastic toothbrushes have been replaced with bamboo ones.
6. Opt for reusable alternatives to disposable cling film
Plastic food wrap is everywhere in our kitchens, but it is neither recyclable nor reusable.
Nevertheless, you can easily replace it with bee’s wax wraps, which can be used dozens, if not hundreds of times. Another option is to use fabric food coverings, fitted with an elastic band, which offer airtight protection for your food preparations.
7. It’s the end of the road for plastic cups and straws
Every year in the UK, 2.5 billion disposable drinks cups are used and thrown in the bin. An alarming figure, which is, in reality, very easy to reduce. In guest bedrooms, or even for your own team members, you can replace these with glasses or reusable drinking bottles.
Bamboo alternatives are also available and are biodegradable, but we prefer the oxidant metal versions, which are more sustainable and last longer.
8. Improve how you recycle your plastic
No one is expecting you to completely eliminate plastic from your business overnight, but you can start by learning how to recycle it better. Not all plastics can be recycled everywhere — yoghurt pots and food containers are notoriously difficult, for example. So, check what your local council does and does not recycle.
It is also essential to properly empty plastic containers before recycling, so they can be cleaned more easily, and separated, as stacked up plastic boxes or cups may not be easy to separate later on in the process.
9.Raise awareness about reducing plastic and involve your customers in initiatives
Another good practice is to participate in a community-wide drive to achieve zero plastic, and raise awareness to help your customers understand what you are doing and why. Set the example to encourage your customers to reduce their plastic waste, and be open with them about what you have put in place to achieve this.
Putting up posters or encouraging open discussions with customers can help vehicle this message. Talking about your initiatives when customers order a takeaway coffee, for example, will help them see the tangible difference they can make.
Involve your customers in reaching your plastic-free target by encouraging them to adopt reusable alternatives to their usual stirrers or sugar sachets. Even more, try to incentivise customers to bring their own Thermos flask or mug!
10. Choose the right plastic alternatives
When you start to take a look at the plastic in your establishment, you will realise that it is everywhere, but also that it almost always can be replaced.
However, it is not always easy to find alternatives that are truly more environmentally friendly, as is the case with bamboo, which, when mass-produced, is a significant contributor to deforestation.
It’s almost impossible to find the perfect solution, but you can always do your best! If you have the choice, you should always opt for cardboard packaging. Even though cardboard recycling is not without its flaws, it’s still less damaging to the environment than plastic.
Brigad supports committed restaurateurs and hoteliers alike! We would love to hear about your zero plastic adventure and share it with the world. We are by your side for supporting and reinforcing your teams, connecting you with a unique community of talented and motivated freelance workers. Find out how we can help you and post your mission in just a few clicks!