How to navigate the single-use plastic ban

02 November 2023
How to navigate the single-use plastic ban

A new law means many single-use plastics are now banned in hospitality. Stephen Nolan looks at how operators can bend and adapt

In a bid to reduce the climate impact of plastic packaging which, according to climate action organisation Wrap, contributes about 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon emissions annually, operators across England can no longer supply or sell certain single-use plastic items, including plastic plates, bowls and trays as well as polystyrene cups and containers.

Although the ban is a step in the right direction in hospitality's journey to collectively reduce emissions, for many operators already struggling with rising costs and energy bills, using less packaging or switching to recyclable materials where possible, may feel like additional cost and operational upheaval. However, failure to meet the new requirements results in hefty local authority fines. Not only will taking action now help operators avoid the financial hit, but it can present them with an opportunity to review and implement wider changes to their supply chains, building a competitive advantage.

What operators should do now

Recycle With many operators likely left with large volumes of unused and now unusable plastic items, it's important to continue to dispose of these responsibly.

Alternative materials Explore alternative materials for single-use items. Suppliers will be able to advise on alternative packaging options and how they can make switches in the most cost-effective way.

Bring customers on the journey Transition success depends on clear in-venue signage explaining to guests what the law is and what the site is doing to comply.

In turn this will nudge environmentally helpful consumer behaviour, such as people bringing reuseable cups, containers and bags. Recent research by Nutritics with CGA Nielsen showed that consumers are more engaged with sustainability than ever, with 70% saying they actively try to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Brief staff well If teams are confident in explaining the law and its impact to customers, they will be armed to manage customer resistance and even drive more loyalty. Recent research by Nutritics with CGA Nielsen showed 84% of employees say they would stay longer with employers making good environmental and societal impact.

Beyond the ban

While the ban is a positive step change, reduction in plastic waste is only a small piece of the wider environmental jigsaw. All indirect emissions that occur throughout a company's value chain, known as scope three emissions, represent the largest source of emissions for many operators, and food waste costs UK restaurants £682m a year.

Although current economic headwinds are a headache for operators, sustainable practice makes commercial sense. Done well, it builds brand trust and grows sales. And what's more, consumers, employees, and investors demand it, and expectations are only going to increase.

It's daunting, but small consistent steps make a difference – and everything starts with data. Reducing a carbon footprint starts with measuring it. Collecting detailed data about the environmental impact of every dish, drink and operational aspect produces a benchmark for improvement.

And with both staff and customers clearly stating they want the out-of-home market to do a better job managing their environmental impact, authentic communication of sustainability ambitions, plans and progress will not only strengthen brand loyalty but future-proof operators' businesses for the long term.

Stephen Nolan is chief executive at food data management company Nutritics

Photo: photka/Shutterstock

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