Changes to food packaging and utensils have emerged as early victories in a plan for Lancashire County Council to phase out single-use plastics.
The authority has introduced 20 recyclable or compostable products within its buildings and services since the start of the year – while keeping the annual cost increase to just over £2,000.
The new ranges include cutlery, containers for hot drinks, covers for hot wraps and pots for salads.
A meeting of the county council’s internal scrutiny committee heard that work is continuing to find other alternatives to single-use plastics, but that the market is currently “overwhelmed” by similar demands for environmentally-friendly ranges from across the country.
“We are working with [council departments] to make it a contractual requirement for suppliers to help us reduce single-use plastics,” Rachel Tanner, the authority’s head of procurement, said.
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School catering has been at the forefront of the reductions made by County Hall to date – with two thirds of all disposable items used in school kitchens now either recyclable or compostable.
Fresh meat products are now supplied in clear plastic trays, rather than the more difficult to recycle black variants – removing 175,000 non-recyclable trays from the county’s schools every year. Fresh fruit, veg and bread is transported in reusable trays, which can then be returned to suppliers.
But committee member Matthew Salter questioned the wisdom of replacing stationery and documentation in school kitchens with tablet devcies – because of the environmental implications of producing them.
Nigel Craine, head of school and residential catering, said that the decision was not solely taken in the context of reducing waste – and that the benefits outweighed the disadvantages.
“With kitchens being warm, moist environments, the paper-based materials previously provided [required] protection which involved the use of single-use plastic,” he said.
Mr. Craine also explained why reductions in single-use plastics in residential homes had been introduced at a slower rate than in schools.
“We have to temper our improvements in conjunction with the homes’ legal requirements – there are certain things we can’t do within residential settings [because of] infection protection control and the way the food is transported around the [homes],” he said.
The meeting also heard that innovations in food packaging – based on coverings made from organic vegetable matter – may have some way to go before they can be widely used. Members were told that such products are not currently suitable for high-risk foods which require protection from cross-contamination and bacterial growth.
Committee member Steve Holgate welcomed the progress made by the county council to date, but added: "There's more we can do and more we need to do."