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Food for thought: Bioregional's simple and sustainable catering checklist
I’m sure I’m not the only one who heads straight to the buffet table at an event – it just wouldn’t be networking if I wasn’t juggling a drink, a plate of mini pastries, and a selection of enticing business cards. But more and more I’m finding myself recoiling at how often there are paper cups, plastic cutlery, and disposable coffee sachets – even at events supposedly focusing on sustainability.
How can I be speaking to people about the benefits of One Planet Living, describing how living in a world with zero waste and sustainable food can be a reality, while holding a cup that required trees, oil, energy and chemicals for it to be made and transported to me, and which cannot be recycled?
And what about the piles of food left over at the end? Whether people have been too polite to take their second mini quiche, or the caterers over-estimated how hungry people might be at 5pm, there is almost always enough food leftover to make me consider eating crudités for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days just to stop them ending up in the bin.
Here at Bioregional, as part of our commitment to achieving One Planet Living, we came up with a sustainable catering checklist for our staff to use for the events that we put on. It can be used for both internal and external events, for food and drink that we buy ourselves, or that’s sourced by external caterers.
We’ve divided the checklist into ‘required’ and 'ideal’, as we know life can be complicated, and there are so many other things to think about to make sure your event runs smoothly.
Sustainable catering checklist
- Vegetarian food
- Fairtrade tea and coffee
- Provide coffee in a cafetiere/pot/machine to avoid plastic sachets
- Non-disposable cutlery
- Non-disposable utensils
- Non-disposable crockery
- Non-disposable cups, glasses and mugs
- Provide drinking water in jugs, reusable bottles or from a dispenser
- Provide milk in bottles or jugs – not in sachets or UHT capsules
- Where snacks are provided, make healthy options available
- Where alcohol is provided, make non-alcoholic options available
- Check with your caterers that they pay their employees a living wage
- Vegan food
- Food sourced from local suppliers
- Wine or beer locally sourced
Dealing with recycling
Remember to think about how easy it is to recycle packaging in the facilities available to you, and try to find packaging that works best for the food you’re serving. For example, if you’re providing something that will ruin the integrity of a cardboard box – say, a greasy pizza – you’re probably better off using plastic that can either be reused or washed and recycled.
If you can’t recycle plastic at the venue, you could consider using a caterer that offers a low-packaging option for their food.
The most important way of minimising food waste is to take care when estimating quantities. Caterers tend to over-cater, so underestimating the number of people who will attend can be a good tactic for avoiding food waste – as long as your nerves can take it!
Then have a contingency plan for any leftover food. For example, you could bring it back to your office, or make arrangements with a company like Too Good To Go or homeless shelters. Alternatively, if you will be at the event venue for a few hours after food is served, use apps like OLIO to find someone who is happy to come and pick up your leftovers.
If you’d like to make your next event a sustainable one, please go ahead and use our list as inspiration – and let us know if you have any recommendations to add to our checklist!