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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Food Industry Says Sayonara to Single-Use Plastics

The war against single-use plastics rages on as even more brands rise to the challenge of creating a plastic-free future. Online food delivery companies Just Eat and Deliveroo are the latest businesses to hop aboard the sustainable packaging bandwagon.

The war against single-use plastics rages on as even more brands rise to the challenge of creating a plastic-free future.

Online food delivery companies Just Eat and Deliveroo are the latest businesses to hop aboard the sustainable packaging bandwagon.

Instead of automatically supplying each customer with plastic cutlery, straws and condiment packets, both brands are now allowing customers to opt out of these options. The move, which was prompted by a recent survey that found that 74 percent of consumers would prefer their takeout without unnecessary plastic cutlery, and could help the companies cut down their plastic footprints considerably.

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“Many of the plastics polluting our oceans are byproducts of food and drink consumption. As the market leader in online food delivery, we are using our influence to drive more environmentally friendly behavior among our restaurant partners and customers,” said Graham Corfield, Managing Director of Just Eat.

In addition to making single-use plastic packaging optional, Just Eat has partnered with Skipping Rocks Lab to trial edible and biodegradable seaweed-based sauce packets. The group is also working with the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) to develop resources to help its 28,000 restaurant partners reduce their reliance on plastic.

According to Andrew Stephed, CEO of the SRA, the restaurant industry has an important role to play in shifting consumer behavior and there is a “huge opportunity for the restaurant sector to make a massive impact.”

“Just Eat is showing great leadership by announcing this initial package of measures, but also committing to spearhead longer-term changes that will have a hugely positive impact on the industry and the environment,” Stephed said.

Deliveroo will also begin working with manufacturers to produce more sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging and overhaul its in-house packaging store with a new range of recyclable and biodegradable options that make it easy and cost-effective for restaurants to make the switch.

“Deliveroo wants to transform the way people eat, ensuring everybody can have great food when and where they want it, and we want them to enjoy meals that are sustainably delivered and packaged,” said Will Shu, CEO and founder of Deliveroo.

“As a company, we are determined to help contribute to efforts to reduce the amount of plastic we all use in society and deliver real, tangible changes that will help our environment. We know this is only the start. We will be working with our restaurant partners and customers to address this long-term challenge that matters to all of us here at Deliveroo.”

Following in the recent footsteps of British supermarket chain The Co-operative, Unilever's popular PG Tips brand has announced that all of its tea bags will now be plastic-free and 100 percent biodegradable.

Unbeknownst to most consumers, most tea bags contain polypropylene, which is used to help seal them shut. PG’s new tea bags will now be made with 100 percent renewable and biodegradable cornstarch.

The new plastic-free tea bags are being rolled out in supermarkets this week in an initial trial. By the end of 2018, the brand intends to move all of its tea bags over to the new plant-based material.

“Tea is the most consumed beverage in the UK, with nine billion PG Tips tea bags sold every year,” said Noel Clarke, VP of Refreshment at Unilever. “Our latest move maintains the same great taste of our tea whilst minimizing our environmental impact.”

This isn’t Unilever’s first foray into plant-based materials. The company has been researching sustainable alternatives for PG Tips for years and has already transitioned its ranges in Canada, Indonesia and Poland away from conventional, plastic-laced bags.

Meanwhile, a supermarket in the Netherlands is setting a new standard for the food industry in what is being called a “landmark” moment in the global movement to eliminate plastic pollution.

Inspired by the Plastic-Free Aisle campaign launched by UK grassroots organization A Plastic Planet, Dutch grocery chain Ekoplaza has opened Europe’s first plastic-free popup store in Amsterdam, which will stock over 700 plastic-free products, including yogurt, cereal, produce, snacks, meat and more. The products are packaged using compostable or recyclable materials such as glass, metal and cardboard will not be any more expensive than plastic-wrapped goods.

In addition to its Amsterdam store, Ekoplaza intends to replicate the plastic-free aisle in all 74 of its branches by the end of this year. A second store in The Hague is already in the works and is expected to be complete by June.

Earlier this year, The Guardian published an investigation into supermarket plastics, which revealed that supermarkets in the UK produce one million metric tons of plastic waste a year. In a bid to reduce this impact, A Plastic Planet has campaigned for grocery retailers to offer a plastic-free aisle. In addition to reducing the use of plastic, the aisles will also serve as a “testbed” for new compostable biomaterials, as well as traditional materials including glass, metal and cardboard.

“There is absolutely no logic in wrapping something as fleeting as food in something as indestructible as plastic. Plastic food and drink packaging remains useful for a matter of days yet remains a destructive presence on the Earth for centuries afterwards,” Sutherland added.