Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Madam, would you like a dash of rubbish with that? No thanks!

Thankfully, when eating out, I don't get asked that question.  It would put me right off my food.

However, if you take responsibility for your waste footprint, you really have to have your wits about you, to know that the drink you're consuming isn't going to result in the bottle ending up in landfill, along with any excess plate waste going to the dump.

Over the last few years, I've become increasingly aware of the sustainability practices of my favourite eateries and yes I confess that I am much happier to frequent those that take this subject seriously, much more than those that don't, even if their motivation for reducing waste is simply financially motivated.  At the end of the day, I want to ensure that wherever I spend my money, I am not leaving a waste trail behind me.

And one of my favourite haunts is the visitor restaurant at Ickworth House, a National Trust property close to Bury St Edmunds, where we often go for family walks. Being a member of the NT, I am aware that the national organisation has championed a range of sustainability projects over recent years, from energy conservation to allotmenteering.  Therefore it was of no surprise when I met with the building's premises manager last week, that catering waste was also high on the property's agenda.

Ickworth House takes recycling very seriously and already uses the local council's trade recycling services, which enables them to recycle mixed plastics and aluminium as well as paper.  Glass bottle recycling was introduced a couple of years ago along with separated cardboard.  In the last six-seven months the kitchen has also started to compost whatever food waste it can, saving an estimated £500 per year from trade waste costs.  The compost is used in the grounds, to feed the Italianate Garden and the next project on the horizon is a rocket composting system, which will also enable the property to manage any cooked food waste.

Admittedly, Ickworth House is privileged to have such facilities, but any catering business can take steps to reduce waste, whether it's buying into the local authority or private contractor recycling services, to divert cans, glass or plastic bottles or other packaging from its landfill waste bill.  Many services also now include the collection of food waste.  Depending on trade waste costs, these services should incur a saving and help increase profits. And if you're paying for a skip\bin collection service, a mini-compactor can help to reduce the number of collections.

Tackling catering waste is a major issue and one which brings many opportunities. The Sustainable Restaurant Association offers advice to the catering industry on how to reduce waste as well as improve other areas of sustainability, conducting audits and providing consultancy.  If businesses want to find independent solutions, they might want to consider reducing packaging at source, speaking to suppliers, or switching from single servings to refillable jars etc. 

For restaurants in London, signing up to the Too Good To Waste campaign and supporting customers who may want to take leftovers home with them is another way of reducing the food waste impact, as is, in some cases, reducing portion sizes. It would be great to have more of these campaigns rolled out regionally to raise awareness more locally.

Pubs and bars in the Soho area of London are also leading the way in reducing the number of plastic straws that go to waste.  Straw Wars is an independent campaign that encourages the community to think twice about single use disposable plastic and supporting establishments now only offer customers a straw if they really want one.  Again, this is a simple idea that could be adopted by towns and other cities across the UK.

Another idea that I've seen being introduced more locally in my own town, include cafes such as Saints in Bury St Edmunds giving away its coffee grounds for customers to take home for composting.  The Coffee House, in Moreton Hall, also encourages "take-away" customers to use the Keep Cup, which they sell onsite and give a 10% discount on every top up.

So during this finale week of The Rubbish Diet challenge, do keep your eyes peeled for examples of good practice while you are out and about.  Reducing waste might just begin in the home, but our waste footprint follows us wherever we are.

If you've spotted any great ideas being implemented, then do please share them in the comments box below.


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