Army of chefs wage war on polystyrene waste in London

Britain's 'war on waste' has seemingly taken a turn from paper to polystyrene cups as a selection of top chefs - including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - have sent a letter to London Mayor Sadiq Khan calling for a city-wide ban on non-biodegradable polystyrene packaging.

The letter is penned by Ed Baines, who co-owns the Randall & Aubin seafood restaurant in Soho, and is co-signed by chefs Theo Randall and Mark Hix; food critic William Sitwell, and chef-turned-eco-warrior Fearnley-Whittingstall. 

It talks of the potential damage that polystyrene food packaging, coffee cups, and meat and fish trays are causing to the environment and residents’ health. City-wide use of polystyrene packaging is contributing to London’s ‘abysmal’ recycling performance, the letter claims, and the material should be outlawed in restaurants and cafes – as has been done in many American cities.

“This white foamy material might seem harmless, but it’s not – it is the scourge of Soho,” Baines writes. “This move could really make a difference, so the signatories of this letter would encourage you and the rest of London to help support this cause, and take us one step closer to a zero waste, clean, green London.

“The problems that come with polystyrene are not exclusive to London. It is estimated that globally around 80 billion polystyrene coffee cups are thrown away each year.”

Capital concern

With Polystyrene being an extremely difficult and expensive-to-recycle material, millions of tonnes of it end up in landfill every year and severely pollute oceans and waterways. Polystyrene can carry pollutants from the ocean which can be then ingested by fish and, later, humans. The material also includes harmful chemicals such as styrene that pose a potential danger to humans as well as the environment.

The letter addresses London Mayor Khan directly, in light of his recent electoral campaign promises to be the ‘greenest Mayor ever’.  

“With my fellow signatories, I feel an obligation to take the lead from more progressive cities of the world such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC and call on you as the Mayor of London to introduce a ban on this unsightly and environmentally damaging method of packaging,” the letter adds. 

“In London, recycling rates are lower than the UK average. As an industry and as residents of bustling Soho, we should be doing everything we can to encourage London’s bars, hotels, restaurants and shops to re-use and recycle more.”

Khan’s mayoral election manifesto included specific targets for reducing London’s waste footprint, aiming for a 65% reduction in recycled waste by 2030. The letter calls upon the Mayor to uphold these ambitious green promises.

Mayor’s response

In response to the letter, a spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “Sadiq does not have the power to enforce a ban on polystyrene packaging in London but he is extremely supportive of initiatives to help boost recycling and make London cleaner.

“He will be asking his new deputy mayor for environment to deliver a number of ambitious proposals that encourage better waste management and tackle pollution across the city.”

The spokesperson reiterated that any ban on polystyrene packaging would require Government legislation.

This letter is the latest in a line of public calls for action on key waste and resource efficiency isues impacting the UK food and drink and hospitality sectors. 

Fearnley-Whittingstall has spearheaded the successful War on Waste campaign against packaging and food waste, recently bringing to light the ‘misleading’ recycling claims being made by coffee shop chains regarding the recyclability of coffee cups.

Sustainable Business Covered podcast: zero-waste restaurants

What does the sustainable restaurant of the future look like? In the latest episode of the Sustainable Business Covered podcast, edie sat down with the new chief executive of the sustainable restaurant association, Andrew Stephen, who explained the need for more restaurants to embrace the shift towards more resource-efficient ways of doing business.

Subscribe to the Sustainable Business Covered podcast on iTunes here.

Luke Nicholls & Alex Baldwin

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