One of today’s buzzwords is ‘green’, and it’s hard to turn on the television or looking online without seeing something about companies becoming more sustainable. Whether it’s the continued success of electric car companies, or clothing brands taking to utilising recycled materials, it is a change the world needs and one that I encourage.
No sector, however, has been hit harder recently than the hospitality business. With rubbish accumulating in the ocean due to items like plastic straws, single-use coffee cups and plastic bottles, business owners have had to start transitioning to more sustainable means.
Looking at the facts
A recent study released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) outlines the Governments intentions to ‘ban the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds’. These smaller plastic items are currently being targeted by activist groups as they are more likely to evade filters and get into the ocean and are more likely to do the most harm.
This announcement comes in the wake of the 5p plastic carrier bag charge, which has since seen 9 billion fewer plastic bags being distributed. Despite initial backlash, people have now seen how easy it is to make eco-friendly changes and last year a study by Unilever found that one third of consumers are actively choosing to buy from brands that they believe are doing social or environmental good.
This shift to eco-friendly is noted across all generations, but none more than the millennial generation. A 2015 Nielsen report found that 73% of millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings, which was up from 50% in 2014. I can only imagine this number has continued to rise, and with it, consumers’ buying habits will continue to stray towards the planet-conscious.
One step being taken in the food industry is the appearance of plastic-free supermarkets. Another common complaint is the over-packaging consumers experience within supermarkets and how unnecessary a lot of it is. Plastic-free supermarkets look to cut this out completely by encouraging customers to bring their own containers or use the biodegradable paper bags in store.
Recently, The Clean Kilo in Digbeth became Birmingham’s first plastic-free supermarket after an incredibly successful £20,000 crowdfunding campaign. As well as encouraging customers to buy in bulk and bring their own reusable containers, the store also makes a conscious effort to buy locally and even in some places grow their products on the premises.
Initiatives like this show that there is demand for these practices in every level of the food business, and a large shift is happening with consumers looking to cut out excess in every area of their consumption.
Making waves going forward
As this trend continues to become more popular, and more prominent in the press, companies are embracing the eco-friendly wave and riding it towards conscious consumers.
One company that will make a massive difference to the distribution of single use plastic straws is McDonald’s. The global fast food chain currently uses staggering 1.8 million straws every day in the UK alone, according to the BBC. Their plastic straws are already 100% recyclable, but they are now looking to try out paper straws. Until then they have moved their plastic straws behind the counter, in an interview with Sky News, McDonald’s chief executive Paul Pomroy said: “Customers have told us that they don't want to be given a straw and that they want to have to ask for one, so we're acting on that.”
Another major player in plastic straw distribution is Wetherspoons. The pub chain is a hotspot for drinkers on a budget and has admitted to automatically putting plastic straws into glasses instead of asking the customer before. However, from January they have started using only biodegradable straws, which they claim will stop 70 million plastic straws entering landfill or ending up in the world’s oceans every year.
Westcountry coffee chain Boston Tea Party are making a stand in a different way and have recently banned single-use coffee cups altogether. This means from now on if you visit any of their 22 locations you’ll have to bring your own cup for a takeaway drink. They have started selling reusable cups instore, and also implemented a loan system for anyone who wants to borrow a cup and bring it back.
This wave has been a long time coming, and I believe it is fantastic news for not only the environment, but the hospitality business as well. As consumers search for more sustainable practices, business owners are being forced to make changes that will help save the world and I for one could not encourage that enough.