An Update on Plastic – November 2018
This month, we introduced new cardboard trays in our Kitchen. An awful lot of work went into thoroughly testing the new trays, adapting how we dish our meals up, and checking cooking times, so we are hugely grateful to Sarah, Jenny, Miles and everyone in the Kitchen who made it possible.
We’re still not going to open the champagne yet, however. Initially, we’ve started using these new trays just for our Kids Meals, which are the size and format most clearly suited to the new packaging. All being well, we will be moving our one and two-portion adult meals into the new tray in 2019. We are fully committed to finding more sustainable packaging across our range by the end of 2020.
“This has required some fundamental changes to our processes and operations in the kitchen, as well as exhaustive product testing, so it’s been far from straightforward but there’s no doubt it’s the right thing to do.”
Ed Perry, COOK Co-founder
As a certified B Corp, we’re committed to reducing our overall impact on the environment. We’re firm believers that “words are cheap, deeds are deep” and, while this news might not be the plastic tray’s silver bullet (after literally years of searching, we can tell you that doesn’t exist yet), it is still a very important step for us at COOK … and one that’s only possible with your support. So thank you.
We don’t like dark corners in our business and there’s a fair bit of confusion about plastics at the moment, so hopefully this section will help you drill down into the details. If you have any questions that aren’t covered below, do drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. So are the new trays completely recyclable?
A. All except for the thin film lid on the top. We’re looking into replacing that too and the technology is developing pretty rapidly, so news when we have it.
Q. How do you recycle the new trays?
A. It’s important you rinse them out to remove any food residue, but then they just go into the paper and card recycling.
Q. What about the waterproof layer on the tray? Doesn’t that make them unrecyclable, like most paper coffee cups?
A. There is a plastic-based PET liner on the new cardboard tray, but it’s so thin that the contaminant level isn’t a problem for paper and card recycling. It may be that, as trays like this become more common, it will become an issue but the hope is by then the plastic-free technology will have advanced enough for there to be an alternative. For the foreseeable future, however, it’s not a problem.
Q. Are the new trays and their liner free of Bisphenol A (BPA), the chemical used in the production of some plastic?
A. They are indeed.
Q. Why is there the letter ‘B’ on the bottom of each tray?
A. That’s the logo of the B Corp movement – of which we’re very proud indeed to be a founder member in the UK. Find out more here.
Q. What else are you planning to do to reduce your use of single-use plastic?
A. The trays are really the trickiest problem for us, and we’ve already come a long way in tackling the plastic perils in our kitchens and shops.
With our trays, the big challenge is that it’s a complex and fast-moving space where it’s hard to know which option is truly best for the planet. Since we moved into board it has been decided these trays will only be widely recyclable for the next two years, as they have a thin plastic coating on the inside to be food safe. The tray producers are working on ways to remove plastic from the trays all together but this is still a work in progress. Another alternative we are exploring is a newly developed coloured plastic tray that’s made from 85% recycled plastic and is easily recycled. Whilst by definition this is still ‘single use plastic’ it is a better option than our current trays because it can be more easily recycled and work is ongoing to find a way of reducing the amount of virgin material needed in each tray. We are trialling this new tray in our four-portion meals.
Unfortunately, there is currently no alternative to the non-recyclable plastic film we use to seal our meals.
In our shops, our taster pots are now reusable and served with a wooden fork. In the Kitchen, we’ve started buying certain products in bulk to cut down on packaging. We also persuaded our fish supplier to use reusable plastic boxes rather than single-use polystyrene (sadly, the industry standard), as well as other initiatives but we definitely still have a long way to go.
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!
We’re currently in the process of replacing our black CPET trays with a recyclable cardboard version.
The plastic ones we do use are made of 60-70% recycled content and are themselves capable of being recycled … in theory, at least. Unfortunately, only a minority of local authorities have the facilities to recycle them into new food trays. Some councils are able to “downcycle” them into materials such as road chippings (which is still better than going to landfill). Either way, they are not a long-term sustainable solution, which is why we’re very pleased, after literally years of searching, to be working with the new recyclable carboard trays.
To find out about the recycling capabilities of your local council, please visit Recycle Now.
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.
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