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Cafes- using compostable packaging during COVID-19

As we write this we see many businesses struggling to cope and thinking of ways to keep going in these difficult times.

While things will hopefully return to normal, for now many businesses are looking to provide takeaway and delivery options - and for some of you this is new.

We know you still care about the environment and want to keep aligned to those values. So here are some tips on providing sustainable packaging and ways to save you money to help your bottom line.

While reusables are the best option and there is no evidence to suggest that they are any less safe to use than disposables, we do understand that businesses may want a disposable option for now, so here we'll focus only on compostables. However please do consider reusables - refer to our companion guide to using reusable foodware during Covid-19

Takeaway containers

● For food taken home, home compostable packaging is the best option as this can be placed in backyard composting. In Adelaide, residents also enjoy kerbside organics collections, so compostable waste (including food) can also be placed there. Look for 100% home compostable packaging made of bagasse (sugarcane), paper or cardboard - ensure the latter two aren’t lined with plastic or bioplastic though. As a second preference, choose items that are commercially compostable (like bioplastics), though these cannot be composted at home.

● If your food is hot or likely to leak - bagasse (sugarcane pulp) is your best choice. It is leak-proof, freezer-proof, microwavable, home compostable and will keep your food hot. Ensure you check the fitting on the lids - bagasse lids are secured with tabs. If you need a better fitting lid, try a clear PLA bioplastic lid (look for the embossed symbol 7 and/or PLA). This will fit snuggly. Clear PLA does not like heat though, so if your food is steaming hot, you may have to use a plastic lid for safety. In this case, at least your container is sustainable. For soups, an alternative is a PLA lined bowl with a CPLA (heat resistant PLA) lid.

● For food that is not wet, cardboard is an option. There are also cardboard containers with bioplastic lining available, which will allow for wet food (even hot food). They are not home compostable - so we prefer to avoid the lining and stick with bagasse - however in Adelaide can be placed in kerbside organics for commercial composting.

Sauce containers and cutlery

● For sauce containers, look for sugarcane options with a PLA bioplastic lid. Be careful not to accidentally order a plastic lid - again look for the 7/PLA symbols. Avoid single use sauce sachets, they are a waste. Order your sauce in bulk and decant into sugarcane options or directly onto the food.

● For cutlery, bamboo/ wood is the best option. Avoid PLA options if you can, they are not home compostable and particularly damaging in the environment if they are littered.

Coffee cups and lids

● For coffee cups, look for PLA lined paper cup options and make sure your cup is compostable. For lids, choose a bagasse (sugarcane) or PLA lid. Bagasse is home compostable and cheaper than PLA.

Cold cups, lids and straws

● For cold cups and straws - look for compostable PLA lined paper cup options. The best option is actually large single-walled coffee cups. Clear PLA cold cups are also available as the next best option. Match either of these with a PLA lid. For straws, wheat/rye or paper is a good option (today's good quality paper straws hold up well in drinks), but we suggest only including a straw when necessary.

Reducing to save money and waste

Consider what you are giving out and whether it is needed. For e.g. most customers will be eating at home and will not need cutlery. Many businesses default to providing cutlery, but this is often just wasting resources. We suggest you have them on hand at the delivery point and only offer if requested or needed.

Rethink what you’re using to see where you can cut down. For e.g. are you using a snap top burger box when a paper bag will do? If someone needs cutlery - are you giving away whole cutlery sets when people only want a fork? You can cut down by considering whether your packaging is fit for purpose.

● If your item has a side sauce, you may be able to include the sauce container inside with the food, saving the need for a lid.

● Only offer bags and straws on request or where needed.

Sourcing products

Ensure the packaging you buy is certified compostable, preferably under the Australian Composting Standards (the AS 5810 for home compostable or the AS 4736 for commercially compostable). If not available, then look for European or US standards. If the products are not certified, there is no evidence that they are compostable.

You can source many compostable lines at local distributors. Often it's a case of contacting yours and simply changing your products, using this as a guide. You can also order online with many major brands. Be careful though, there are many products out there that pose as 'green', but are in fact anything but. Always ensure you are purchasing 100% certified compostable.

And remember to let your Adelaide-based customers know that they can dispose of all your packaging in their council provided kerbside organics bins!

Coronavirus and health advice for cafes


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