Is the food-to-go sector doing enough when it comes to tackling single-use plastic?

Our lunch habits are having a WHOPPER of an impact when it comes to plastic pollution and the food-to-go sector, which includes cafes, coffee chains and fast-food outlets are a big part of the problem. Before the pandemic hit, 75% of the British public were buying their lunch on the go each day, generating a hard to swallow 11 billion items of packaging waste a year. That’s 276 items per person every year! Unsurprisingly, packaging from takeaway food and drinks such as disposable coffee cups and takeaway containers are littering our streets, parks, rivers and beaches and are now consistently in the top 10 items found on beaches in the UK and Europe.

Peeling back the shiny wrapper

That’s why we, alongside research consultants Eunomia, have launched a new report to peel back the shiny wrapper on the sector to understand what businesses are currently doing to reduce single-use plastic packaging – and what they could do better.

As an organisation, we champion the Waste Hierarchy and work hard to engage and influence brands & retailers to reduce their use of plastics and make reusables more accessible. We’ve been working with the food-to-go sector for the last five years as part of our Refill campaign and we wanted to understand where the problem areas were and what could be done to speed up the transition towards reuse.

Download the Food-To-Go report now

From throwaway to reuse, turning the tide on pointless packaging in the food-to-go sector.

From throwaway to reuse – turning the tide on pointless packaging in the food to go sector.

The research provided a pre-pandemic snapshot of behaviours in the food-to-go sector. At the time it was completed, some businesses were taking small steps, but action was falling well short of legal requirements, environmental best practice and consumer expectations.

Using these findings, we’ve pulled out 10 key areas for improvement and created a road map for the future with timed actions and targets that big chains and thousands of independents across the UK can use to reduce their use of single-use packaging.

Sandwiched between the COVID-19 crisis and the plastics crisis

Since we carried out this research, the arrival of COVID-19 has undoubtedly shaken the world and changed the retail landscape significantly. It’s important to acknowledge that right now cafes, fast food outlets and coffee chains up and down the country are struggling. Our lunch providing friends have been left sandwiched between a public health crisis and an environmental crisis – and we know they need our help now more than ever.

While some outlets have regrettably reversed their move towards reusables, others have doubled down on our shared vision of a refill revolution. Earlier in the year, we launched our Contactless Coffee campaign, providing fast-food outlets with simple advice on how to offer takeaway drinks in a reusable cup safely and protect our planet. But we soon realised we needed to do more to support businesses away from the old habits of single-use and to illustrate to them how reuse can, and indeed, must be at the heart of their new business case.

A road map for the future

To put an end to plastic pollution, we need to turn off the tap when it comes to single-use plastics. Policies must change. Whilst we completely appreciate the challenges the sector is facing, we need to act now. We must build back better and create a more sustainable future. Businesses in the food-to-go sector need to be ambitious, committed and transparent about their reduction and reuse targets and whether they meet them.

Now is the time for the food-to-go sector to step forward and lead the way. Will they?

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