Plastic for Dinner Anyone? Your Choice!

Plastic waste is killing our oceans and could ultimately kill us too.  A Plastic Planet asked me on Twitter the other day “What do you do to help make the world plastic free?” I answered truthfully “not enough…”, but the tweet made me question myself on whether I should be doing more – both as a caterer and as an individual.

The meat I buy from the supermarket is packed in plastic; my drinks are in plastic bottles; my vegetables are invariably wrapped in plastic – even the bags provided for the loose produce are made out of plastic; and to crown it all I have recently learnt that my beloved teabags have a plastic seal!

I decided to watch the documentary ‘A Plastic Ocean’, which has been described by Sir David Attenborough as ‘the most important of our time’.  It describes the extent of plastic waste killing the oceans and warns that it could ultimately kill us.

Plastic for Dinner Anyone? Your Choice!

The documentary was an eye-opener for me. Looking around my home I’m aghast at how much plastic there is – from toothpaste and toiletries to food packaging and even to poop bags for my dogs. I’ve realised that I have to do something. Although whatever I do will just be a drop in the ocean (pardon the pun!), my conscience will not allow me to ignore what is happening – for the sake of future generations.

Waste Plastic Facts

  • 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the seas every year (1)
  • Oceans will contain one ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025 (1)
  • By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish (1)
  • Britain’s leading supermarkets create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year (2)
  • A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute (4)
  • In the UK 38.5 million plastic bottles are used every day. Just over a half are recycled and more than 16 million are put into landfill, burned, or leak into the environment and oceans (4)
  • Less than 1% of coffee cups are recycled – out of 2.5 billion that are thrown away in the UK each year (3)

The following video explains how much of a problem disposable coffee cups are for the environment (The independent 5/1/18)

Waste Plastic

We have been mass producing plastic since the 1950s – and the production is showing no signs of abating.  Only a small amount is recycled.  Most ends up in landfills, where it can take up to 500 years to decompose and potentially leak pollutants into the soil and water, or else it ends up directly in our oceans.  Developing countries are using plastics extensively because it is economical to do so.

In a recent report Ocean Conservancy claims that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are responsible for 60% of the plastic waste that enters the world’s seas.

Plastic for Dinner?

Throughout the documentary you are shown footage of numerous marine species and birds that have been affected by plastic in our oceans.  The larger pieces choke and starve our marine life to death, while the smaller pieces are ingested releasing toxins to be stored in their tissues.  These toxins enter our food chain and can eventually end up on our dinner plates – and there are signs that they have already!!!

What can I do to help?

The film, ‘A Plastic Ocean’ makes the point that there is no quick fix – but suggests we can all play our part by avoiding plastic containing products.
Click here to see the trailer.

1   Supermarkets 

  • The Prime Minister has said that supermarkets should set up plastic-free aisles and has pledged to eliminate unnecessary plastic waste by 2042.
  • An investigation carried out by The Guardian on 17th January 2018 asked the eight leading British supermarkets how much plastic packaging they sell to consumers, and whether they would commit to a plastic-free aisle. Even though they have to declare the amount they put on the market annually under an EU directive, six of the supermarkets refused the request (the information is kept secret). Only two complied with the request – Aldi and the Co-op. None were committed to setting up a plastic-free aisle.
  • Following the article in The Guardian, Iceland announced that it would stop plastic packaging on its own brand products by 2023.
  • Following the article Waitrose announced that it would stop using black plastic for its meat, fish,  fruit and vegetables by the end of this year, and that all Waitrose products would be free of this by the end of 2016 (it cannot be recycled in the UK).
  • Again, following the article, 200 cross-party MPs are calling on the major supermarkets to eliminate plastic packaging from their products by 2023.
  • A Plastic Planet is campaigning for a plastic-free aisle.  They want supermarkets and brands to change how they package our food. 

2   Plastic Bottles

  • Water UK is joining forces with the Refill Campaign  to create a network of high street retailers, coffee shops, businesses and local authorities offering to refill water bottles in every English town and city by 2021.
  • A new scheme is being introduced in London to cut plastic bottle waste.  People will be able to get free water from 20 new fountains.
  • Coca-Cola has said that it will collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of the packaging it sells globally by 2030.
  • Greenpeace is asking the government to introduce a deposit return scheme (DRS) whereby the consumer pays a little more for a bottle when it is initially purchased, and then they get their money back when the bottle is returned.  Approximately 150 million people use DRS worldwide and these schemes have increased plastic bottle collection by up to 94%

3   Disposable Coffee Cups

  • The Environmental Audit Committee has recommended a strategy to deal with the waste resulting from disposable coffee cups.  It is calling upon the Government to introduce a 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups, and for all coffee cups to be recycled by 2023.  If the target is not met it believes the Government should ban all disposable coffee cups.
  • Pret A Manger currently offer a 50p discount to customers who bring their own mug.  

4   Packaging-free Shops

UK's first packaging-free shop on wheels(Click here)

There are a number of packaging-free shops and zero waste projects across the UK.  They allow you to refill your own bags and containers. For a list of these shops click here

5  Zero Waste Restaurants 

Click here to see how a restaurant in Brighton called Silo operates a zero waste and packaging-free restaurant.

6  Say No To Throwaway Plastic Week

My local paper  reported last week that Sally Edge has set up a campaign in Faversham to cut down on plastic.  She hopes that 2000 people will join her.

I do realise that there are a lot more organisations and campaigns tackling plastic waste that I have failed to mention. There are also other restaurants, cafes and retailers operating a zero waste and packaging-free business that I haven’t included.  I am sorry – but I would love to hear from you.  As an individual I will certainly be making every effort to reduce the amount of plastic I buy and I would certainly welcome a plastic-free aisle in my local supermarket. As a caterer I will also be holding discussions with my clients to see where I can reduce (and hopefully eliminate) my use of plastic. Please let me know what else you think can be done by commenting on this post.  Thank you.

(1) A Plastic Ocean
(2) The Guardian 17/1/18 ‘ Nearly 1 million tonnes every year: supermarkets shamed for plastic packaging
(3) The Independent 5/1/18 ‘Disposable Coffee Cups: How big a problem are they for the Environment’
(4) The Guardian 28/6/17 ‘A million bottles a minute: world’s plastic binge “as dangerous as climate change” ‘


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