An Update on Plastic – July 2019
We’ve been working hard to reduce our use of single-use plastics at COOK, with a focus on our black plastic trays. The big news is, in the autumn, we’ll be introducing a new tray for our four-portion meals that’s made from up to 85% recycled material and is 100% recyclable – just give it a rinse and put it in with your plastic recycling. It can then go to make another food tray (or something else), again and again and again...
This type of tray only became available this year and we were the first company in the UK to try it. We’re starting to use it for the meals for four because there is currently no other workable alternative, due to the size and weight of the meals and the need for the trays to go straight from freezer to oven. With the four-portion trial a success, we’ve quickly moved on to testing the trays for our one-portion and two-portion meals.
The tray may still be plastic, but it uses mostly recycled material (between 80% and 85% according to the manufacturer, Faerch), it’s easily recyclable itself, and the manufacturer has committed to buying a tonne of UK waste plastic for every tonne of trays we buy. But, while this is undoubtedly a huge step forward on our path to less plastic, we’re not at our destination.
The virgin plastic used for the trays covers the inside surface, in contact with the food, and is needed to make the tray food safe. The fact the tray is easy to recycle also makes it a good option for now compared with materials that are compostable or biodegradable but only if the right facilities exist (which they don’t for the vast majority of the country).
As for the cardboard trays: we moved our Kids Meals into them last year and our one-portion sides into them this year, and we are continuing to test it for our one- and two-portion meals. The larger the meal, the harder we’re finding it to make board work in our Kitchen, due mostly to the flex in the material. We’ll keep going with the tests. On the horizon there is also a challenge for the use of cardboard for food trays as the rules on recycling will change in 2021, and the thin layer of plastic on the inside of the trays (roughly 12%), will mean they will no longer by recyclable with paper. Obviously, the manufacturers are working flat-out to find a solution.
As you can see, the path to less plastic has many twists and turns, but we’re committed to the journey. Beyond trays, there is thechallenge of the plastic film used to seal meals and make them safe for consumption, where there is currently no workable alternative. This summer we have a student from Imperial College, London doing on study on the relative carbon footprints of the different types of tray, as this information remains very sparse.
This is a challenge that we need to be tackling together. If you work for a food company and would like to hear about how the new trays are working, or what else we’re doing to reduce plastic use, please get it touch.
So, for our main ranges, the current situation (as of 19/7/19) is…
Meals for One – Testing both recyclable plastic and cardboard
Meals for Two – Testing both recyclable plastic and cardboard
Meals for Four – Will be used from August in our Kitchen, in the shops come the autumn
Meals for Eight – Looking to move to recyclable plastic
Pots for One – Looking to move to recyclable plastic
Pies for One – Already in cardboard trays
Kids Meals – Already in cardboard trays
One-Portion Sides – Already in cardboard trays
Two-Portion Sides – Looking to move to recyclable plastic
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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The COOK Kitchen
Kent ME10 3HH
t: 01732 759000