UK cafés and restaurants pilot lunchbox refill scheme to slash plastics waste

Dozens of independent cafés and fast food restaurants across the UK will allow customers to bring their own reusable lunchboxes as part of a pilot scheme aimed at reducing reliance on single-use plastic food packaging.

UK cafés and restaurants pilot lunchbox refill scheme to slash plastics waste

More than 100 outlets have joined the scheme so far

Called #LongLivetheLunchBox and convened by sustainability NGO Global Action Plan, the scheme involves more than 100 food and drink outlets across England. Businesses in three major cities – London, Brighton and Oxford – as well as smaller towns and villages in Sussex and the North East, have signed up. 

Under the scheme, businesses are required to display pink “we accept your containers here” stickers in their windows and to list themselves on Global Action Plan’s interactive digital map, which uses GPS to tell users where their nearest participating outlet is.

In order to incentivise container reuse, some of the businesses taking part have committed to offering a 10% discount or extra loyalty card stamp to those who bring their own lunchbox.

The scheme is being led by Global Action Plan’s youth panel – a group of 18-24 year-olds who work collaboratively to design schemes which spur the uptake of more sustainable choices by business and the general public alike. The panel will run the communications campaign for the scheme exclusively on Instagram, posting images and videos which bring the scale of the plastic waste problem to life.

“We’re hoping that the campaign will inspire people to start saying no to single-use plastic and to bring their own lunchboxes when grabbing lunch on the go,” Global Action Plan youth panel member Annie Pigeon said.

“It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm from cafes and customers already.”

#LongLiveTheLunchbox is a voluntary scheme and is currently open to new members, with Global Action Plan urging food-to-go businesses of any size and in any UK location to sign up.

Recycling or reuse?

The market for takeaway snacks and drinks is growing rapidly; the UK industry was worth a record £17.4bn last year, with several sustainability professionals claiming that this figure will only rise. Indeed, Recoup’s projections suggest that the market will be worth more than £23bn by 2022.

But the latest Recoup figures also reveal that only 42% of local authorities have adequate infrastructure to process “on-the-go” waste from food and drink businesses, evidencing a recyclability ‘gap’ between products and infrastructure.

Moreover, behaviours in this space have proven hard to change, with three in ten Brits admitting to placing their plastic food and drink packaging waste in general bins when they are out in public.

In response to the challenge, the likes of Asda, Co-op and Marks and Spencer (M&S) have joined a scheme aimed at funding recycling infrastructure improvements while driving behaviour change around eating and drinking out. The initiative, called LeedsByExample and backed by Leeds City Council alongside recycling compliance scheme Ecosurety, has also garnered the support of Coca Cola GB, innocent drinks, Pepsico, Danone, Costa and Morrisons.

Elsewhere, most major UK coffee chains are offering incentives for customers who bring reusable cups, including Pret A Manger, Caffe Nero and Starbucks. Similarly, a coalition of businesses in London and property developer Landsec have both launched water bottle refill campaigns in recent months, offering free tap water to customers in a bid to reduce their reliance on single-use bottles.

These moves come at a time when several sustainability professionals and green campaign groups are beginning to tout reuse and refill as the only viable solution to the world’s plastic pollution problem. They include A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland and Reboot Innovation’s director Chris Sherwin. Such arguments are typically borne from the fact that only 9% of all plastic ever made has been recycled.

edie’s Plastics Thinkathon 

With businesses continuing to make plastic-reduction pledges in the face of ever-growing stakeholder pressure, edie recently hosted the world’s first ‘Plastics Thinkathon’ to co-create scalable solutions to the issue. 

During the two-day event, participating sustainability, CSR and packaging professionals were tasked with creating innovative solutions to some of the plastics industry’s largest resource challenges, including single-use food and drinks packaging. The results of that event can be found here

Sarah George

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