Footprint comment: Nick Cliffe from Closed Loop Environmental Solutions highlights the opportunities for foodservice to recycle more packaging

WHILE RECYCLING and closing the loop on water and milk bottles is now established in the UK, there is now a huge opportunity to bring this expertise into the foodservice sector.


Closed Loop in Australia began by providing a foodservice solution for the Sydney Olympic Games. The objective was to minimise the environmental impact by controlling the inputs and tailoring them to available waste and recycling infrastructure.


The London Olympics proved that you need all factors in place to achieve high levels of recycling – the right packaging, the right process and infrastructure, as well as the communication and engagement.


To achieve 100% closed loop solutions there are a number of criteria for success. In terms of material, foodservice packaging should be made from materials that match the available recycling infrastructure. Ideally, they should have a value, be made from the recyclate and thus a market pull is created. The choice of material and design should also be considered. Whenever designing something new don’t just ask the customer but ask a recycler. Or, better yet, get the customer and recycler in the same room.


Many foodservice packaging items are classed as recyclable and many are, but the question is: are they practically recyclable? A typical example is paper hot cups (for takeaway coffee). These are generally regarded as recyclable, but in practice are very difficult to actually recycle – you need special pulping facilities to recover the very valuable paper fibre and these are few and far between.


The challenge for the foodservice sector, therefore, is to identify where the packaging will be disposed of: on-site, at home or on-the-go. Unlike retail and FMCG, where the majority goes into the domestic waste stream, there are limits on in-store bins and other restrictions on collection, for instance lack of space for separate bins and potential health and safety and hygiene concerns.


However, there a number of brands working in the UK and Europe that are looking at all aspects of waste and taking a holistic approach, such as packaging design, in-store bins, signage, customer engagement and staff training, as well as managing waste and recycling contracts. There has also been an industry wide focus on this area, with initiatives such as WRAP’s Hospitality and Foodservice Agreement.


The hospitality and leisure industry has the opportunity to build on this, and the achievements at the Olympics, and radically improve the recycling opportunities across the sector.