Improvement Needed on Single-use in the Food-To-Go Sector

16th November 2020

Along with our partners environmental not-for-profit City to Sea, we have released a new report, which is the first of its kind in the UK, taking an in-depth look at the single-use packaging and disposables problem in the food-to-go sector, including cafes, fast food outlets and coffee chains in the UK.

The report, ‘Food-to-go. Good to go?’, identifies a lack of progress towards the Waste Hierarchy and includes a road map outlining the steps the sector should take to significantly reduce the amount of single-use items in the sector and promote prevention and reuse.

Packaging such as takeaway containers and disposable coffee cups are frequently found to be among the most-littered items in the UK and Europe, and the new report analyses the performance of the top 20 UK high street food-to-go operators (by sales turnover data). We conducted in-store surveys in Bristol, Manchester and London and complemented this with online research into company policy and practice.

The results of the analysis showed much room for improvement, with 83% of contemporary fast-food outlets and 86% of traditional fast-food outlets having no policies for reducing single-use plastics front of house, and outlets not providing sufficient drinking water refill opportunities or crockery and cutlery for eating and drinking in store. Reusables are also not being incentivised on a wide scale, while front of house recycling systems are lacking.

The global Covid-19 pandemic has hit the food-to-go sector hard, halting progress made by businesses, with many reverting to single-use plastic for both eat in and takeaway. We hope the report will encourage the sector to ‘build back better’ and urges businesses to be ambitious, committed and transparent about their reduction and reuse targets.

We will repeat the research with City to Sea again in 2021, this time revealing the individual business rankings to the public.

Mark Hilton, Head of Sustainable Business at Eunomia, commented: “In undertaking this timely research with City to Sea, we dug beneath the headline initiatives and found that even the best brands still have plenty they can do to reduce single-use plastic use, while some in the traditional quick service sector are only just getting started. We want to work with brands, singly or collectively, to make sure that when we repeat the exercise in 2021, we have a very positive and meaningful story to tell.

City to Sea’s CEO Rebecca Burgess added: “To put an end to plastic pollution, we need to turn off the tap when it comes to single-use plastics. The crisis of Covid-19 has left many outlets sandwiched between an environmental and a public health crisis, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Our road map offers a clear pathway for them to protect people, planet and profits. We want to support the sector in making this transition and as such, have decided not to publish the individual rankings this year. Now is the time for the food-to-go sector to step forward and lead the way. In 2021 we will repeat the research and this time share who is leading the way and who is lagging behind, so customers can act.

You can read the full report on the City to Sea website.

Image courtesy of John Beans via https://myfriendscoffee.com/.