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Now more than ever, retailers are looking for ways to get involved in eliminating waste and reducing their negative impact on the planet. Indeed, 93% of UK retailers have said sustainability is a focus for the year ahead, according to recent research.
The study by B2B marketplace Creoate revealed that businesses were looking to be more sustainable in the year ahead by choosing products which are more sustainable or eco-friendly (84%), by stocking more local products (68%), and by reviewing their own packaging and bags (64%).
Many retailers have already started weighing up their options for reducing plastic packaging on-site, but with Government regulations potentially getting stricter, now is the time for those who are falling behind to act. Single-use plastics like cutlery and plates could be banned in England, the Government has warned, under proposals in a 12-week public consultation.
“There is growing recognition of the damage that plastics cause to our environment and marine life in particular. We want to reduce the use of plastics in packaging and ban its use in items linked to littering,” environment secretary George Eustice said. “We have already banned plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and now plan to extend the ban to cutlery and balloon sticks where alternative materials, like wood, can be used.”
It follows the passage of the Environment Act, which includes powers to place charges on single-use items. The call to evidence will also explore whether a charge could be added to products like single-use cups or sachets.
Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP, said these steps are “essential if we are to turn the tide on plastic pollution and keep plastic out of the environment.” Retailers could get on board with single-use plastic reduction by swapping for reusable or recyclable alternatives where possible, as well as by installing refill stations, discussing how to cut plastic use with suppliers and stocking brands with sustainable packaging.
The other major challenge facing the food and drink industry’s circular economy credentials is food waste. Research by Balloon One revealed that 4.8 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK supply chain every year. In the retail sector, 0.3 million tonnes of food waste is produced, and while that equates to enough food to feed everyone in the UK for around three days, it is the smallest amount wasted by any sector in the supply chain.
As Paul Bendit, managing director and owner of Folkington’s, recently told Speciality Food, it’s a common misconception that food waste is all about retailers rejecting wonky veg. The real picture is much more complex. The manufacturing and processing sector produced the largest amount of food waste at 1.9 million tonnes, Balloon One found. This was followed by the agriculture and primary production sector, which produces 1.6 million tonnes of food waste, and the hospitality and foodservice sector, which wastes 1 million tonnes of food every year.
Uncovering innovative ways to tackle this issue is key. Business leaders discussed initiatives reducing food waste at a recent conference, Great Taste – Zero Waste, held by the Nordic Council of Ministers. In order to persuade people and businesses to tackle food waste, Katarzyna Młynarczyk, a speaker at the event and founder of Handelek, a restaurant in Poland, said she is on a mission to “make food waste sexier”.
Her bakery saves surplus bread by turning it into other products, like craft spirits. They are also working to build a network of restaurants that will cooperate to reduce food waste. While foodservice businesses are facing a number of challenges at the moment, Katarzyna said that now is the best time to work on visionary projects like these.
Another innovator who spoke of the importance of reducing waste was Maria Abrahamsen, co-founder of Rub & Stub, an organisation helping companies fight their own food waste. The group organises waste reduction workshops, zero-waste dinners and initiatives like gleaning, where participants take what’s left behind on the fields after harvests.
Meanwhile, GreenBytes, a tool which optimises ordering in restaurants to reduce food waste, was showcased by co-founder Renata Bade Barajas, who spoke of the importance of teaching chefs to create awareness of food as a resource. GreenBytes uses artificial intelligence to ensure businesses order just the right amount of food.
For businesses looking to improve their sustainability credentials in the coming year, tackling issues like food waste and single-use plastics is a great first step. “The good news is that most of our food waste can easily be avoided and is largely due to an inefficient supply chain holding things up and wasting valuable time,” said Craig Powell, managing director at Balloon One. “There are a few changes that every business can make to tackle the problem. So, whether you lower your inventory levels or automate your processes, every company, no matter their size, can get involved and have an impact.”
How is your business tackling food waste or single-use plastics? We’d love to hear about your initiatives. Get in touch with email@example.com