Skip to main content
Search Results

The truth about your environmental impact

4th Jul 2022 - 04:00
Many organisations now have sweeping sustainability policies and net zero goals but how well understood are they by the staff tasked with carrying them out writes sustainability expert Josephine Liang who offers suggestions about how to get them ‘fully on-board’.

The last few years have seen a rise in businesses recognising the importance of sustainability and addressing it in their agendas. The climate crisis is feeling more and more urgent, and people are beginning to realise their responsibility to make a difference.

With the rise in environmental importance to many people, workers are increasingly seeking out employers who have sustainability at the forefront of their organisation. A 2020 study, for instance, found that 65% of respondents were more likely to work for an organisation with strong environmental policies.

Single-use packaging

Despite best efforts, many organisations face difficulties finding a concrete path to sustainability in the workplace as well as their business operations. Many leaders are focusing on building sustainable supply chains, but it is essential to also take day-to-day operations into consideration when evaluating a business’s overall impact on the environment.

One example is the vast use of single-use plastics in on-site catering. The food and catering sector continues to choose disposable packaging that generates 11bn pieces of waste annually; it is estimated that packaging accounts for one-fifth of all waste in the UK.

While it is important to audit the supply chain as part of a company’s sustainability efforts, it is essential to look at some of the biggest sources of waste globally.

Adopting reusables in any organisation as standard practice will vastly decrease disposable waste, as well as making it much simpler for employees to reach their personal green goals. Creating a sustainable infrastructure to maximise simplicity for employees is important. When sustainable habits are as simple and accessible as their wasteful counterparts, they are the most effective; keep it simple.

There are also various other benefits of reusables for caterers, such as cost-effectiveness. While single-use packaging is created as cheaply as possible, reusables are designed to be durable enough to last for hundreds of uses, and the sturdy structure will help protect produce and ensure quality. This means investing in packaging on a less regular basis as the quality will ensure it lasts for longer, reducing expense.

Changing Habits

Another challenge may be encouraging workers to form habits that are not natural to them, habits that they do not use in their own food preparation or waste disposal at home. Changing these habits can be difficult, so keeping sustainability rewarding and fun is key.

Small rewards, like discounts on food and drinks, can be really effective and influential to help promote sustainable practices, and ensure all employees are adhering to sustainable practices regularly. This may also help transform their habits outside of work to be more eco-friendly.

The Recycling Myth

Waste disposal also poses issues for caterers attempting to adopt a sustainable infrastructure, as the rules around disposals can make this challenging for companies, often meaning that waste management feels out of their control. In London, for example, the rules differ between boroughs making recycling and waste management complex. When sending waste to landfill, the impact on the environment is severe, as landfill waste produces toxins, leachate and greenhouse gas. Another example would be the additional waste stream needed in order to use compostable food packaging, which can be costly to implement.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misunderstanding around waste and recycling, despite people’s sincere efforts. In 2020, 89% of people in Britain were recycling their waste regularly according to a study.

As positive as this sounds, it isn’t enough. The waste system can be complicated, and so 44% of people are confused about what can be recycled and what cannot, meaning that efforts to dispose of waste in an environmentally friendly way are often not actually sustainable. For example, if you are disposing of recycling containing remnants of food, or accidently recycling low quality plastic, there will be a detrimental impact on the environment due to contamination.

The lack of education on recycling in the catering industry and how to recycle properly results in people misusing recycling facilities, limiting sustainable practice. Educating the workforce about the misconceptions around recycling and ensuring they know what can be recycled, as well as providing suitable and well-labelled waste bins, will encourage sustainable behaviour, reduce the amount of waste generated and help make your organisation greener.

Sustainable Ingredients

Making efforts to use more sustainable produce will help to make your catering more eco-friendly. Ingredients like palm oil, soy beans, red meats and fish such as salmon have a harmful impact on the environment in the way that they are harvested and produced. Trying to reduce the frequency of using these products as well as sourcing your ingredients locally and seasonally will really help the pursuit of sustainability.


Technology and the use of innovation have played an important role in furthering sustainable development. Digital technology should be incorporated into sustainable efforts being made in the catering industry.

Digital technology and environmental sustainability are often seen as being mutually exclusive, however the two are often mutually reinforcing. It can be difficult for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint without this technology. Technologies such as blockchains allow the tracking of products, their material components, and location.

This makes sustainability simple and accessible for caterers. When it comes to on-site catering, providers have a responsibility to reduce their impact on the environment. The good news is simple changes, like switching to reusable packaging, workplace education initiatives, ensuring correct waste disposal and utilising technology can make a big difference.

Creating a sustainable catering business may soon become legislation, with the UK Plastic Packaging Tax coming into effect this April and a ban on single-use plastics currently under consultation. Catering providers can’t afford to wait; switching to more environmental practices now will put you in the best position to look after your business, your employees and our planet.

Written by
Edward Waddell