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News review

Rising tide of fast food litter

It’s bad news for the burger joint. Keep Britain Tidy’s latest litter survey B shows that fast food litter was found at 32% of the sites assessed; a decade ago it was present at 20%. The problem hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.

Last year the Commons communities and local government committee concluded that England is now “litter-ridden” and expressed concern with the rising levels of fast food rubbish in particular. There was better news for the Big Mac: McDonald’s was commended for its staff litter patrols within 150 metres of each of its 1,200 outlets.

But that isn’t enough. The committee also recommended the introduction of new on-pack labels for fast food and takeaway packaging to encourage responsible disposal. The government, in its recently published response, seems to be keen on the idea too.

The Foodservice Packaging Association also believes a fresh approach is needed, not least because the Tidyman logo found on packaging has been around since 1969. The move could be part of the government’s promised National Litter Strategy, the first meeting for which took place last month.

Industry groups will be pushing for ways to “nudge” consumers to more responsible behaviour, rather than bash them over the head with a stick. Whether these will be enough to solve what has become an £850m clean-up bill for local authorities is far from clear.

Sick of slow progress on sugar

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Consider this. Almost one in three (31%) Brits are unwilling to make changes to reduce their sugar intake. Not big changes, but little ones: replacing sugar-frosted cereal with porridge and berries once in a while, or having some fruit rather than a glass of orange juice sometimes.

In other words, weaning the nation off its sugar habit isn’t going to be easy. But that’s the task facing those involved in compiling the new Childhood Obesity strategy. They have had no shortage of suggestions, and leading the charge is a tax on the white stuff (with NHS England the latest convert).

The pros and cons of such a move will continue to be argued until and after the strategy’s publication. The whole debate has been mired in conjecture, controversy and confusion. Neither campaigners nor food companies have helped themselves.

Adapting an idea put forward in an article in February 2014 by New Scientist, imagine you are sitting at a table with a bag of sugar, a teaspoon and a glass of water. You open the bag and add a spoonful of sugar to the water. Then another, and another, and another, until you have added nine teaspoons. Would you drink the water? How about if it were labelled Coca-Cola, or Pepsi or Ribena?

Simple messages are how successful food brands entice more and more customers to buy their fare, but many still hide behind the shadowy metrics of guideline daily amounts and traffic lights, dubious sales figures on “low sugar options” and underhand marketing to children. As the latest Access to Nutrition Index showed, food and beverage companies have a powerful role to play in reducing obesity and improving nutrition, but “the industry as a whole is moving too slowly”.

Food hasn’t been part of hospitality’s sustainability agenda

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For too long food has been an afterthought for the hospitality sector’s work on sustainability, according to the UN Environment Programme. “Many businesses in the industry, including hotels, restaurants, caterers and event managers, have looked at their environmental and social impacts and sought to reduce them, perhaps by adopting energy-saving measures or embracing best employment practice. Food-related impacts, however, appear not to have had the profile they deserve.”

So it has launched guidelines to help, complete with four steps to responsible food sourcing:

  • Establish your approach
  • Integrate sustainability into your business
  • Monitor performance and evaluate your progress
  • Communicate your achievements

The guide pulls no punches in terms of what’s expected. “Those involved in purchasing food responsibly will need to consider and decide their positions and priorities on questions as varied as climate change and carbon labelling, shifting menus from meat to vegetables, animal welfare, minimising ‘food miles’, preferring local and seasonal food, organic farming, genetically modified organisms, fair trade and ethical trade, environmental and health matters, biodiversity versus monoculture, or cheap food versus quality food.” Simple.