With such a strong focus on reducing the transmission of COVID-19 throughout the world, how do Australian businesses adapt to ensure they can provide their employees with sustainable options for their food and packaging?
Despite the increasing support for businesses to adapt towards sustainability, many workplace foodservice providers are finding it increasingly difficult to provide their employees with effective alternatives to single-use plastics. This challenge is further compounded by a temporary shift away from “bulk” style meals, such as buffets, with individual packaging now the recommended option for many vendors.
For many foodservice providers, suppliers have continued to provide an increasing selection of biodegradable packaging options but their quality and cost can often vary significantly between brands. The growing use of Keep Cups was immediately suspended when COVID-19 restrictions were first introduced in Australia, increasing the cost of packaging for vendors and resulting in millions of additional take-away coffee cups in landfill.
Businesses focused on continued usage of reusable items, such as cutlery, crockery and glassware have found that meeting sanitation requirements can often be cost prohibitive. However, with a responsibility to their employees, many employers have found themselves at a crossroad between environmentally friendly practices and maintaining workplace health and safety standards.
So how do workplaces continue to remain sustainable, while ensuring their employees are safe?
Despite the challenges listed above, there are still a number of alternatives available to those businesses committed to reducing their environmental footprint, all while ensuring their employees feel comfortable and confident at work:
1. Recyclable packaging
Recyclable packaging has existed for some time now, with many businesses happily committed to using materials that can be used again in the future. In 2020, conscious vendors are now focused on using packaging that is not just recyclable, but that comes from 100% recyclable materials. This commitment not only reduces their environmental footprint, it has created a profitable industry that recovers and reprocesses recyclable materials across Australia. Synchrony Australia proudly uses packaging made from 100% recycled materials that are also recyclable themselves.
2. Biodegradable packaging
While many businesses are committed to recyclable packaging, it is estimated that less than 10% of Australia’s recyclable plastics are actually recycled. This realisation has led many foodservice providers to switch to biodegradable options and their many advantages:
- Made from plants and not oil
- Commercially compostable
- Saves water and energy required to sanitise recyclables
- Provides the convenience of single-use without the lasting impact
- Disposable products support contact minimisation strategies
Despite these advantages, biodegradable packaging can often be more expensive than single-use plastics or recyclables. For vendors committed to environmental sustainability, the increased cost must be weighed against their long-term environmental impact and sustainability goals.
3. Carbon neutral alternatives
With an increasing number of offices striving to be carbon neutral by 2025, the current COVID-19 restrictions provide a unique opportunity to further reduce carbon emissions. As many employees find themselves working from home, businesses across the country have already made significant ground in reducing their carbon footprint through less employee travel, a drop in utility rates and a reduction in office equipment.
For businesses seeking to further reduce their carbon footprint, becoming carbon neutral has never been easier. Facilitated by an accredited auditor, vendors can better understand their impact on the environment and the various options to further reduce their footprint.
It can be as simple as purchasing carbon offsets, or selecting carbon neutral organisations to support your business.
4. Evaluate your supply chain
In addition to finding carbon neutral suppliers, the environmental impact of your supply chain can greatly influence your carbon footprint. With the majority of packaging now manufactured either within China or Greater Asia, foodservice vendors should consider the impact of their packaging purely from a transport perspective.
This approach should extend further to the foods we source; with a focus on produce available from local suppliers and farms.
With cargo ships now one of the world’s greatest polluters, every foodservice vendor should consider the environmental impact of “Food Miles”.
What to expect in the future
In the long-term, we can expect a return to bulk foods, lower costs and more sustainable options. While the current COVID-19 restrictions have highlighted a need for single-use packaging, there are still various alternatives that provide employers with long-term sustainability.
For vendors that are focused on further reducing their environmental footprint, look to what sustainable alternatives your suppliers can provide. From packaging to carbon offsets, every small change can make a difference.