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How Eco-Friendly is your Food Preparation?

August 27, 2019, 10:04 GMT+1
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  • ESPO’s Catherine Watson examines what schools can do to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics when it comes to their catering disposables...
How Eco-Friendly is your Food Preparation?

Barely a week goes by without a major news story highlighting the devastating effects of single-use plastic waste on the environment, so it’s no surprise that reducing plastic usage is something now high on many schools’ agendas.

In fact, Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently urged all schools to ban single-use plastics by 2022 – and a great place to start is in your canteen.

ESPO’s catalogue and Framework 45 for Catering Consumables offers schools a huge choice of compostable, recyclable and other eco-friendly products to help make the switch.

Clingfilm can be traded for catering foil, for example, while non-recyclable polystyrene containers can be swapped out for compostable alternatives.

Compostable food packaging is made from plant-based materials, and can be broken down and returned to the earth as soil when appropriately disposed of in a commercial composting facility with the right combination of heat, microbes and moisture.

Remember, however, that it’s not the plastic itself that’s the problem, but rather where it’s ending up. Recyclable plastics are a valuable resource that can be turned into new products when disposed of correctly – something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Compostable or recyclable packaging that ends up in landfill won’t offer any environmental benefits over traditional disposables. The key to ensuring your service is truly ‘green’ is to give due consideration to your school’s waste management facilities.

You need to ascertain whether the disposal methods offered by your waste management provider will allow you to ‘close the loop’. A closed loop system is one where waste materials are collected and diverted from landfill, through being transformed into new products, raw chemical materials or energy via the process of recycling or composting.

Waste management providers will tend to charge less for collections of compostable and recyclable waste compared with general waste destined for landfill, so there are financial as well as environmental benefits to be had from closing the loop in this way. The suppliers listed on ESPO‘s framework have all been tested for their ability to provide customers with tailored advice on the most suitable products for their service, based on the facilities available to them.

Finally, you’ll need to maintain separate receptacles for recyclable, compostable and other waste and ensure everyone knows how to use them. They should be identified using clear signage and easily accessible by everyone. Contaminated materials may be rejected for recycling and instead flagged for incineration or landfill, so it’s important to educate staff and pupils on the need to clean and dry items before putting them in recycling bins.

The Children’s Future Food Inquiry has issued a report examining the level of access that disadvantaged children have to food, both at home and during the school day.

Based on workshops involving young people, academic research and a national survey, the report highlights an inconsistent provision and uptake of free school meals, premium-priced healthy meal options in school cafeterias and a lack of access in some settings to free drinking water throughout the day.

The Soil Association has urged the DfE to introduce mandatory weekly meat-free ‘plant-based protein days’ at all schools. The call comes as the DfE reviews its School Food Standards guidance, which currently recommends that schools organise weekly ‘meat-free’ days, but doesn’t make them compulsory.

According to Rob Percival, head of policy for food and health at the Soil Association, “We know children would benefit nutritionally from eating more beans, pulses, and plant-based proteins and the climate would also benefit – we should all be eating less and better meat.”

Catherine Watson is a procurement officer at the professional buying organisation ESPO; for more information, email food@espo.org quoting ‘45PSM’.

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