By Kellie Lindsay, Plastic Free Places Program Manager
As we write this we see many businesses struggling to cope and thinking of ways to keep going in these difficult times.
While things will hopefully return to normal, for now many businesses are looking to provide takeaway and delivery options - and for some of you this is new.
We know you still care about the environment and want to keep aligned to those values. So here are some tips on providing sustainable packaging and ways to save you money to help your bottom line.
While reusables are the best option and there is no evidence to suggest that they are any less safe to use than disposables, we do understand that businesses may want a disposable option for now, so here we'll focus only on compostables. However please do consider reusables - refer to our companion guide to using reusable foodware during Covid-19
● For food taken home, home compostable packaging is the best option as this can be placed in backyard composting. Look for 100% home compostable packaging made of bagasse (sugarcane), paper or cardboard - ensure the latter two aren’t lined with plastic or bioplastic though. As a second preference, choose items that are commercially compostable (like bioplastics), though these cannot be composted at home.
● If your food is hot or likely to leak - bagasse (sugarcane pulp) is your best choice. It is leak-proof, freezer-proof, microwavable, home compostable and will keep your food hot. Ensure you check the fitting on the lids - bagasse lids are secured with tabs. If you need a better fitting lid, try a clear PLA bioplastic lid (look for the embossed symbol 7 and/or PLA). This will fit snuggly - though PLA is not home compostable. Clear PLA does not like heat though, so if your food is steaming hot, you may have to use a plastic lid for safety. In this case, at least your container is sustainable. For soups, an alternative is a PLA lined bowl with a CPLA (heat resistant PLA) lid - however neither are home compostable.
● For food that is not wet, cardboard is an option. There are also cardboard containers with bioplastic lining available, which will allow for wet food (even hot food). The lining is not home compostable - so for wet food we prefer to avoid the lining and stick with bagasse.
SAUCE CONTAINERS & CUTLERY
● For sauce containers, look for sugarcane options with a PLA bioplastic lid. Be careful not to order a plastic lid - again look for the 7/PLA symbols. Avoid single-use sauce sachets, they are a waste. Order your sauce in bulk and decant into sugarcane options or directly onto the food.
● For cutlery, bamboo/ wood is the best option. Avoid PLA options here, they are not home compostable and do not break down effectively in landfill or the environment.
COFFEE CUPS & LIDS
● For coffee cups, look for PLA lined paper cup options and make sure your cup is compostable. For lids, choose a bagasse (sugarcane) or PLA lid. Bagasse is home compostable and cheaper than PLA. Currently, only the brand Greenmark makes bagasse lids - check with your local suppliers to see if they stock this brand.
COLD CUPS, LIDS & STRAWS
● For cold cups and straws - look for compostable PLA lined paper cup options. The best option is actually large single-walled coffee cups. Clear PLA cold cups are also available as the next best option. Match either of these with a PLA lid. For straws, wheat/rye or paper is a good option (today's good quality paper straws hold up well in drinks), but we suggest only including a straw when necessary.
REDUCING TO SAVE MONEY & WASTE
● Consider what you are giving out and whether it is needed. For e.g. most customers will be eating at home and will not need cutlery. Many businesses default to providing cutlery, but this is often just wasting resources. We suggest you have them on hand at the delivery point and only offer if requested or needed.
● Only offer bags and straws on request or where needed.
● Rethink what you’re using to see where you can cut down. For e.g. are you using a snap top burger box when a paper bag will do? If someone needs cutlery - are you giving away whole cutlery sets when people only want a fork? You can cut down by considering whether your packaging is fit for purpose.
● If your item has a side sauce, you may be able to include the sauce container inside with the food, saving the need for a lid.
Ensure the packaging you buy is certified compostable, preferably under the Australian Composting Standards (the AS 5810 for home compostable or the AS 4736 for commercially compostable). If not available, then look for European or US standards. If the products are not certified, there is no evidence that they are compostable.
In this guide we have used some products we like as as a reference, but there are a number of other good brands and products available, and you can source these through local distributors. Often it's a case of contacting yours and simply changing your products, using this as a guide. You can also order online with many major brands. Be careful though, there are many products out there that pose as 'green', but are in fact anything but. Don't be fooled by the words like 'biodegradable' or 'eco' - many plastic products are marketed using these words. The main thing to remember is to ensure you are purchasing 100% certified compostable.
Please note: we don't benefit commercially from any brands or products we recommend.
MANAGING TAKEAWAY PACKAGING AT HOME
By providing 100% compostable packaging you are doing the right thing - you are reducing your environmental footprint and using products not made from fossil fuels.
The question is what is the best option for households when discarding that packaging?
All takeaway packaging is a problem for households, mainly due to a lack of clear packaging certification, the best bin to use and the fact that different locations have different services and requirements.
In areas with a kerbside organics collection, the issue is simple. All discarded food and compostable packaging can go in the kerbside organics bin for collection.
Everywhere else things are more complicated. The best option for households is to put any home compostable packaging in their home compost. If they don't have one, this is a good chance to set one up. If this is not an option then paper based (including bagasse) home compostable packaging can go in the recycling bin, provided it is clean of food. Anything commercially compostable (i.e. products containing PLA bioplastics) has to go into the red garbage bin.
This is not an ideal situation, but changing our practice away from single-use plastics will take time. We need local authorities to provide a kerbside FOGO (Food Organics/ Garden Organics) collection service. This would solve the problem for compostable packaging taken home, as households could put all their organic waste into a collection bin that will be taken to a local compost facility. Such a service would reduce household waste to landfill by about 50%.
CORONAVIRUS & HEALTH ADVICE FOR CAFES
For information see the Australian Government's Information Factsheet for Employers.
For our companion guide on reusable takeaway foodware during Covid-19, click here.