Following the broadcasting of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, the war on single-use plastic began. One of the governments responses to this epidemic is for UK schools to eliminate all single-use plastic items by 2022; this includes plastic bags, straws and bottles. The aim is to help reduce the amount of waste in produced in schools, which currently stands at 22kg per secondary school pupil and 45kg per primary school pupil, each academic year.
There are some simple switches that schools can make. For example, with the food to go market on the rise, the need for sustainable packaging solutions grows with it.
“This will be especially prevalent within secondary education environments, with teenagers and young adults shining the spotlight on sustainability issues and leading the way in the ongoing war against single use plastic,” says Harry Rice, product manager for consumables at Nisbets. “With 83% of millennials viewing implemented programs to improve the environment as a high importance, it’s vital for caterers to become more eco-conscious when it comes to food packaging solutions.”
To meet consumer demand, Fiesta Green provides a wide range of sustainable packaging and disposable alternatives, including coffee cups, straws, and cutlery, that offer an environmentally friendly solution for single use servings.
Made from plant-based materials, when disposed of in a commercial composting facility with the right balance of heat, microbes and moisture, compostable food packaging can break down and turn into soil.
However, as a spokesperson from ESPO points out, it isn’t plastic itself that is the problem, but more so where it is ending up. When disposed of correctly, recyclable plastics are a valuable resource that can be turned into new products, so they shouldn’t be completely overlooked.
“The key to ensuring that your service is truly ‘green’ is an understanding of the waste management facilities that are available to your school,” an ESPO spokesperson says. “A closed loop system is one where waste materials are collected and diverted from landfill by being transformed into new products, chemical raw materials or energy via recycling or composting. Waste management providers tend to charge less to collect compostable and recyclable waste than general waste for landfill, so there may be financial as well as environmental benefits to closing the loop.”
One example of a closed loop system can be seen with Options Management’s Reverse Vending Machines. The full service, which is available to secondary schools, includes school compliant drinks, reverse vending equipment and the collection of waste.
“Our reverse vending equipment involves students in separating their waste for recycling and rewarding them for doing so,” says Paul Ure, managing director at Options Management. “Our Gold Standard recycling unit, for example, scans and collects used beverage containers such as paper cups, PET bottles and drink cans and rewards students at point of use with a token, which is then typically reimbursed for a free drink. We complete the closed loop process by collecting waste and returning it to our materials recycling facility where it is separated before being recycled into new products.”
Benefits of having a system like this include reduced litter in and around school sites and also improved education, as students learn about the whole recycling process. Other options for schools include bins for recyclable, compostable and other waste; however, it is vital that students use the bins correctly, as contaminated waste can be rejected for recycling and sent to landfill instead.
Recycling food is another way that schools can improve their green credentials. Options include grey water and compost systems, however not all foods can be composted in these machines.
Another option is biogas, where food waste is pumped into a vacuum tank and converted into biogas. Although these systems can be more expensive in the short term, as Paul Anderson, managing director at Meiko UK explains, “It’s all about planning for the long term, rather than a short-term measure. The challenge is to develop a strategy to sustainably manage food waste that brings more benefit than cost to the business.”
Schools can reduce their environmental impact even further by reviewing what types of food and drink packaging is on site. As Mike Hardman, marketing manager at Alliance Online explains, most schools have the perfect opportunity to improve their eco-credentials by simply reviewing and altering what packaging they offer premade food options in.
“With the amount of media attention on the environmental impact industry is having on the global climate, it’s understandable that all sectors, education included, are looking for ways to reduce their footprint,” says Hardman. “[Thankfully], the options available for schools, and other educational institutes, is much more diverse and offer multiple eco-alternatives.”
Surely the simple solution then is for schools to switch to sustainable packaging options? Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as that – especially when it comes to food preparation – but there are some creative ways schools can get on board with, such as compostable packaging for grab-and-go lunches.
“When choosing a packaging partner, search for companies that offer 100% home and industrial compostable packaging,” says Rachael Sawtell, director of marketing, Planglow, which has partnered with bioprocessing experts PRM Waste Systems to offer an on-site waste disposal unit for schools. “Even the plant-based film, which lines Planglow’s wedge sandwich packs, are fully certified as both home and industrially compostable. Compostable packaging also loves food waste, and food actually helps it to break down more efficiently, so food contamination is not an issue.”
Compostable tableware is another solution that could become popular in schools, however, as Huw Crampton, from organic waste solutions specialist Tidy Planet explains, while this is significantly better than using plastic tableware, the UK’s recycling infrastructure isn’t quite ready to fully cope with such packaging.
Being environmentally friendly isn’t always just about recycling; it’s about reusable options too. By identifying what single-use products can be swapped for long-lasting options, schools can not only potentially save money, but save waste going into landfill. Kitchen labels are one such item.
A reusable label can be the solution here. PuraCycle’s new ReMarkable Label can eliminate the need for at least 500 single-use labels by using just one, explains Andy Piggin, managing director of Pro Foodservice Reps. “The labels not only help school kitchens save money, but eliminate waste, meet health standards and save time from scraping endless containers of paper glue residue,” says Piggin.
The labels are made from recyclable materials, are durable (even with industrial dishwashers) and come with non-toxic markers, which can be erased using Puracycle 100% bamboo biodegradable cloths.
Preparing for the future
With WRAP reporting that food waste costs the country’s educational establishments £250m every year, environmental best practice is gaining attention among education providers.
Dundee and Angus College in Scotland, which has 6,368 students over three sites, decided to turn its attention to the management of food waste and found composting to be the answer.
The college introduced a range of waste management technologies, including integrated shredding, dewatering and composting systems, across its kitchens. In 14 days after entering the composter, a nutrient-rich resource is created, which is used on the site garden for weed suppression and potting purposes.
The composting technology allows the college to process up to one tonne of its food waste per week and has proven to be a financial and environmental investment, saving money on off-site waste transportation costs and reducing the college’s carbon footprint.
With young people actively interested and spurred on by recent events to help combat climate change, implementing new recycling processes into the school environment can only be a positive thing, and could even bring students together to work towards a common goal – saving the planet.
From encouraging students to bring in their own water bottles to introducing recycling points, schools can help promote both student’s attitudes and actions towards leading a more sustainable life.