Unsurprisingly, we’ve had quite a few queries about plastic recently, and we’re very happy to share what we’ve been up to behind the scenes at COOK to reduce – and hopefully eliminate – our use of it.
The biggest challenge has always been finding a tray that is both food safe and can go straight from the freezer to the oven. To date there hasn’t been a realistic alternative to plastic. However, the technology is finally catching up and we’re currently working on a trial to replace our plastic trays with a fully recyclable, paper-based version, similar to the kind we introduced with our new pie range last autumn. We’re going to start using it with all of our Kids Meals, and it will then take a few months to be sure that it’s robust enough for us to use more widely. Until the trial is complete it’s hard to give a realistic timeframe but we should have a good idea of the potential of the new tray material within the next six months. If all goes well, we’ll get the ball rolling as quickly as we can.
Of course, if the new trays don’t work, or only work for some dishes, we’re also looking at all the options for improved recycling of our current plastic tray. While they already contain 60% recycled plastic material and are in theory fully recyclable, the way most recycling centres operate in the UK means hardly any of this type of plastic is actually recycled, as the material isn’t as valuable to the recycling companies compared with other types of plastic. So we’re exploring what steps we could take ourselves (for example, could we have collection points in shops and a direct relationship with a recycling company). That said, our priority is to find a long-term alternative to plastic.
As a certified B Corp, we’re committed to reducing our overall impact on the environment (for instance, last year we moved to 100% renewable electricity at our kitchens), and have to pass a tough, external test every two years to make sure COOK is being run as a business that’s good for society.
So, no big PR announcement from us. We believe in deeds not words, and until we’ve got some genuine progress to report, we’ll keep working hard behind the scenes to solve the plastic problem.
We’re doing all we can at COOK to minimise our impact on the environment. Our ultimate aim is to leave everything that we have loaned from the planet in as good or a better condition than it was when we got it. As you can imagine, this is no easy feat and something we can’t do without the help of our customers.
Here are some tips on what you can do to help us recycle...
The cardboard sleeves on our meals are 100% recyclable when sorted into the appropriate paper/card category. Unfortunately not all local councils recycle everything. To find out if yours recycles paper and card please visit Recycle Now (you’ll also be able to find your nearest recycling bank here if they don’t).
At our Kitchen in Kent, 100% of the cardboard that our ingredients are delivered in gets recycled. The cardboard (along with our waste paper) is baled before being collected and taken away to be reused.
Between 2015 and 2016 we recycled 266 tonnes of cardboard
Many local authorities can provide homes with a food waste recycling bin, so if you don’t manage to finish your meal, you needn’t create any waste.
We have plans to introduce an anaerobic food digester system to our Kitchen that will mean we can recycle every last bit of our food waste. Visit WRAP's website to find out more about this and similar projects taking place regarding food waste management.
The film that seals our meals is not currently recyclable and should be put into a mixed waste bin. We are looking at alternative seals to plastic film, so watch this space!
The black CPET trays we use for our meals are made of 60-70% recycled content and are themselves capable of being recycled.
However, the optical sorting machines used at recycling centres struggle to identify them because of their dark colour. This means that once they go to a recycling centre, they don’t get recycled into new food trays and instead end up as materials such as road chippings (which is still better than going to landfill).
Unfortunately, not all local authorities are able to recycle our black trays. We've put together a quick table from our most recent research that shows whether the local authorities where our COOK shops are currently have this capability. Please see this table here. We'll try to keep this as up to date as possible. If you're a home delivery customer or shop at one of independent stockists around the country you can find this information at Recycle Now.
We’re currently working on finding a solution for our customers whose authorities don’t recycle the trays - we're in this together!
We are investigating the issue of the tray's colour preventing it from being fully recycled. We're working with our supplier, Faerch, to investigate other options and are also involved in current discussions with other retailers.
In the meantime, we've set ourselves a business milestone to scope alternative options for trays that combine a sustainable solution with the best possible customer experience and will present options by the third quarter of this financial year.
In terms of other plastics we use at our Kitchen, we recycle the plastic packaging our ingredients are delivered in, any plastic pallet wrap, and have an agreement with our chemical supplier so that the plastic drums our cleaning chemicals are packaged in are returned to the supplier and reused.
Some of our meals are packaged in aluminium foil trays. These can be widely recycled as part of your kerbside collection and if not, at local recycling collection points.
Home Delivery Packaging
Most elements of our Home Delivery packaging are recyclable (some pieces require more imagination than others!).
The outer box is made of cardboard and is 100% recyclable at any cardboard recycling centre or doorstep collection.
The insulating liner is made of sheep’s wool which is biodegradable when removed from the plastic. The wool can also be used in a number of ingenious ways (as suggested by our customers) such as insulation for plant pots and beehives in the winter, as liners for hanging basket displays and for making hamster cages extra cosy!
Once the gel packs have defrosted, the contents can be poured straight down your sink as they are completely non-toxic. The empty bags can then be taken to your nearest recycling centre as they’re made of the same material as a normal supermarket carrier bag.