Whether your business is strictly catering based or your cafe has a catering side hustle, this guide will help you on your way to achieving less plastic waste, more reuse and greater innovation.
With plastic bans coming in across the country, plastic avoidance initiatives will become a legislated necessity, so why not show your clientele that you’re ahead of the game and taking positive steps to reduce waste within your industry.
When it comes to eliminating single-use items, it's important to apply the waste hierarchy of avoid, reuse, switch - in that order. This means we should be looking for ways we can reduce and reuse, before looking for another single-use alternative.
Here, we guide you on how this hierarchy can be applied to the most common single-use catering items:
Containers and cling wrap for transporting
The safe transportation and display of food is important for obvious food safety reasons. This is why all too often caterers rely on plastic cling wrap to transport and serve their food.
Plastic containers and cling wrap can be avoided by caterers who opt to use reusable containers to transport items in. An added benefit is that these are usually designed to stack on top of each other, making them more secure.
Caterers who utilise this method at events often include a bond-like deposit on the containers. Once the event is completed, the catering company can retrieve the reusable items and refund the deposit to the event organiser.
Stainless steel and sturdy reusable plastic options like the ones below can be purchased from many hospitality suppliers. You may also be able to hire them from party hire companies who can drop off and pick up the items from the event site, or the caterers kitchen.
SWITCH TO SINGLE-USE ALTERNATIVES
Where reusables are not viable, brands such as Biopak or Greenmark have a range of compostable food containers and trays that are certified under Australian home and/or commercial composting standards. Look for ones with lids to avoid the use of cling wrap.
If a single-use wrap is deemed absolutely necessary, there are some Australian certified home compostable cling wraps on the market, such as Great Wrap. These can only be used to wrap around cold food. Aluminium foil can also be used - but look for recycled (not virgin) foil to minimise environmental impacts. Tip - recycle foil by scrunching together until it is larger than a fist and put it in the recycling bin.
Plastic serving trays
These can be eliminated by utilising reusable trays or breadboards. Look for options that store flat or stack well. For ease and to save double handling and extra wash-up, containers that the items are transported in could also serve as serving items. These can be returned to you (the caterer) after the event.
Look for home compostable paper or bagasse (sugarcane) trays that are certified under Australian home and/or commercial composting standards (with home compostable preferred). Napkins may viable for serving some items.
Plates, cups and bowls
Utilise reusable items to serve food on where possible. These can be purchased, hired, or in some cases the venue may have these available.
When reusables are not viable, look for compostable varieties made from paper, palm leaf, pine shavings or bagasse (for plates & bowls), or paper with a bioplastic lining (cups). Look for compost certifications and preference certified home compostable items. Napkins may be be able to be used instead of plates for some items.
Decide whether you actually need cocktail skewers?
If completely necessary, the product should be made of 100% bamboo or wood (toothpicks can make a good option) and be home compostable. Greenmark and Bygreen have some good options. Avoid decoration on the top as these are often plastic. Look for sustainably sourced items.
Depending on the type of event and food being served, sauce could go directly on the food item or plate. Have a condiment station for this purpose (at larger events, have several stations to avoid queuing). Include salt and pepper.
Washable pots and small bowls can be used (these can double up as canapé serving bowls also). Event hosts can be advised that these are to be kept for washing along with the other reusable items.
Several packaging brands now make certified home compostable sugarcane bagasse sauce pots in 30-90mL sizes, some with bagasse lids, although generally lids are not required unless it is a very thin dressing. Wood (pine shaving) is also an option - look for sustainably sourced wood though.
Cutlery can often be avoided depending on what food is being served and what type of event it is. You could provide paper napkins instead.
When reusable is not viable and cutlery is actually required, switch to FSC certified wooden varieties. Cocktail forks or toothpicks are the cheapest option. Avoid alternatives made from CPLA or cutlery that appears to be plastic but is labelled as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ (most states have banned these).
So there we have it, a catering guide to help the plastic waste associated with your operations be as minimal as possible. Always remember to keep in mind avoid, reuse, switch, in this order of priority when making your choices surrounding any single-use plastics.
Once these avoidance methods and switches take place and become the new norm for your business, with the money you'll save and positive response from your clientele, you’ll wonder why you didn't make these changes years ago!
Please note: This information is simply to help you identify products. We don't recommend one product over the other and we don't benefit commercially from any brands or products we list.