Reducing back-of-house plastics

By Clare Sullivan, Plastic Free Places Communications Support Officer



A common question we're asked from businesses is “what about our back-of-house plastics - how do we reduce them?”


Often, this is because business owners looking to create a holistic approach to waste minimisation look back-of-house and realise how quickly all different types of plastics are filling up their bins!


Reducing these plastics tends to be more difficult a task than eliminating commonly used front-of-house plastics, but it is not an impossible one. By implementing some simple changes, you will be surprised at how much plastic can actually be saved.


So... what plastics are we talking about, and how can these be successfully eliminated?



CLING WRAP and PLASTIC SINGLE-USE STORAGE CONTAINERS


The use of cling wrap is widespread in kitchens around the country, mostly to keep food fresh and protect it from spoiling. For this it serves a wonderful purpose, but with its useful life being short and its post-disposal life being forever, the more businesses that can move away from this plastic item, the better!


Plastic single-use storage containers, go hand in hand with cling wrap as they're both used to achieve the same goal; food preservation and storage. Single-use containers, due to food residues, contaminate recycling streams and clog up landfill, nonetheless however, they are the go-to item for many businesses as they offer cheap and easy storage of pre-prepared food.


Whilst they are cheap, businesses must consider the cost of their disposal and continued supply. These types of containers are also often full of toxic chemicals such as BPA’s that leach into the food upon storage.


Eliminate both cling wrap and plastic single-use storage containers by:


Investing in durable, reusable, stackable, sealable, washable, heat resistant storage containers - the best ones include BPA free hard plastic varieties or stainless steel types. The upfront investment will be high, however in the long run, costs will be saved through ceasing the supply of single-use and a reduced need for waste collection services.



What about “biodegradable” or “compostable” cling wrap?


There is a big difference between these two terms.


Always steer clear of cling wraps labeled only as ‘biodegradable’ (without being compostable) as they are most likely virgin plastic that has been given an additive to promote degradation. This means it will simply break into problematic microplastics and never truly decompose.

Compostable cling wraps certified under Australian Composting Standard AS 5810 are a better alternative. Always look out for the Compost Standard logo to ensure that this product is what it says it is.


There are a number of brands emerging that have attained the Australian standard, such as The Great Wrap.


Please note however that these materials are still single-use and contribute to waste and resource depletion - reusable items are always the preferred alternative.



GLOVES


The requirement to use gloves in back-of-house operations is another frequent point of conversation, as these too are single-use and disposed of in large numbers.


The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code does not require food handlers to use gloves while preparing food. This is positive for both the environment and business as gloves are just another waste item and cost that businesses and the planet can save on.


Eliminate by:


The NSW Food Authority suggests that frequent and thorough hand washing in conjunction with the utilisation of tools such as spoons and tongs in place of gloves, greatly reduces the risks of cross contamination.


The best idea is to have a small quantity of certified home compostable gloves on hand for situations that definitely require their use (like cutting up millions of chillies). These gloves from Biopak fit the criteria and are a good alternative when gloves are a necessity.


Like with cling wrap, beware of rubber gloves claiming to be ‘biodegradable’ - always check that the gloves are certified under Australian home composting standard AS 5810.



CHUX


The notorious Chux is used by the truckload in restaurants and cafes around the country. They are an essential part of hygiene and serve a very convenient purpose, but did you know that they’re basically plastic?


Eliminate by:


Invest in good quality, natural fibre, reusable and washable cloths. Look for material such as cotton or bamboo, with no plastic components that can deposit microplastics in your grey water stream.

Another option to at least make Chux more than single-use is to wash them for reuse. Due to the cheap synthetic fibres, they will deteriorate after a certain number of washes (depositing microplastics in the grey water stream), so this should be seen as a last resort.


Installing a microplastics filter on your washing machine is also an excellent addition to combat this (as well as the microplastics from any other loads).



EXCESSIVE FOOD PACKAGING


Excessive food packaging is difficult to successfully reduce. Due to the nature of the food system, food items often come from all over Australia and the world, resulting in layers of pallet wrap and plastic containment. Certain fresh fruits and vegetables are often delivered in boxes lined with plastic bags, making these waste items hard to avoid.


Eliminate by:


The best way to reduce over-packaged foods as well as your business's food miles is to support your local food economy. Reach out to local farmers, suppliers and producers - many of them will deliver in reusable containers that can be returned, and if you do find yourself in a situation where there are no alternatives, remember that your voice carries a lot of power! Get in touch with farmers and manufacturers and demand change. If the market is driven by desires such as this, then businesses will e more likely to positively respond.


Buying items in bulk also reduces excessive packaging issues.



When you are stuck with soft plastic packaging, RECYCLE it through REDCYCLE


Uncontaminated ‘soft plastics' such as clean food packets like rice or pasta (there are many others), can be recycled through the REDcycle network.


What is REDcycle and how do I utilise the program?


REDcycle is an initiative set up to recover post-consumer soft plastics before they enter landfill. The program has teamed up with Woolworths, Coles and other well known brands throughout Australia to provide drop off locations for post consumer soft plastic waste.


The collected soft plastic waste is recycled and turned into products such as furniture and fencing.


For businesses to utilise this, all you have to do is set up soft plastic bins in your workplace, and nominate a member of staff to be responsible for the collection and drop off of the plastics to your local supermarket. Remember to ensure that the items are actually accepted under the program (an extensive list can be found here). Item must not be soiled as these will contaminate the stream.


Images courtesy of Redcycle

Refer to REDcycle for your local drop off destination


But remember, this is your last resort. It should not be a substitute for reducing and reusing.