As the world isolated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic food-delivery Apps such as UberEats and Deliveroo saw an unprecedented surge in demand as restaurants turned to takeaway and home delivery to survive. In Australia, restaurants that were once dine-in only were supported by local residents purchasing their favourite meals as takeaway. With that increased demand comes an increased consumption of single-use packaging.
Is there a place where safety and sustainability can meet in the wake of this crisis?
With large outdoor events cancelled, stadiums closed, shopping centres, airports and CBDs mostly locked down, there has been a reduction in the waste normally produced.
On the other hand, essential services and businesses such as hospitals and hotels have turned to disposable foodservice products to increase hygiene and prevent infection, as have large canteens such as those in manufacturing and mining sites, with hygiene prioritised over reusable alternatives.
Many businesses that are planning to re-open in the coming weeks have already signalled they will be adopting single-use foodservice items as a core part of their strategy to reduce the risk of an outbreak in their workplace.
When we contemplate a return to ‘the new normal’ over the coming weeks, consideration needs to be given to what this is actually going to look like.
There have been incredibly rapid changes in patterns of consumption and behaviour but what are the environmental costs of the pandemic? How can we take steps to ensure the environment itself does not become another casualty of this crisis?
In recent weeks the largest cities in the world have marvelled at the clear, blue skies precipitated by the arrival of the virus – and it’s a great time for some blue-sky thinking about our management of waste and our environmental footprint.
Takeaway packaging solutions
If we are to use single-use packaging then let’s ensure they are produced from sustainably sourced, rapidly renewable materials that are certified carbon neutral and compostable. We should not forget to buy responsibly – it still matters! A carbon neutral certification is like the ‘Heart Foundation tick’ of approval for action on climate change.
By using compostable packaging in tandem with a compost collection system the plastic and paper recycling streams can be kept free of contaminants; with a single bin for food waste and packaging that is collected separately and entirely diverted from landfill. This reduces general waste collection fees and creates nutrient-rich compost.
Change cannot be achieved through the private sector alone. Progressive arms of government from the local, state and national level across the world are embracing compostable single-use packaging because they recognise it can address the multiple problems of waste and greenhouse gas emissions from landfill and in doing so create a new and lucrative local economy, centred on sustainable solutions for organic recycling.
If food waste were counted as a country it would be the third-largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the world. In Australia, cafes, restaurants and fast food outlets contribute up to 661,000 tonnes of food waste per year.
Businesses can use bioplastic cups and containers that are compostable and plates and containers that are sourced from sustainably produced sugarcane pulp, and sign up to their local compost service and divert not only their food waste, but also their packaging from landfill.
Individuals can support the movement by lobbying their respective local councils for residential compost collections. Together we can avoid contributing to the 4.2 million tonnes of food waste each year destined for landfill in Australia alone.
It would be foolish to ignore the opportunities presented by recent events. As the old adage goes, crisis precipitates change. Pundits around the world are talking up a ‘green recovery’ in the wake of COVID-19. It is time to take advantage and apply the new-found knowledge that as a society, when we work towards common goals cooperatively, there is nothing that cannot be achieved.
Watch this video to see how composting could work in your business.