“Packaging must be fit for purpose,” says Martin Kersh, executive director of the Foodservice Packaging Association, as we talk to him about the issues relating to packaging for fish friers
It’s clear that there is a lot of confusion currently regarding packaging - what is and is not recyclable - and what choices are best for fish and chips.
Let’s start by saying that the best choice for all fish friers is using packaging that is right for your individual business, based on your knowledge of local customers and the collection and recycling facilities available locally. Packaging must be fit for purpose, it must be hygienic and it must ensure that the food it protects arrives at the point of consumption in the best possible condition.
It is very likely that the Government will implement taxes or levies on takeaway packaging in the near future and, alongside that, introduce deposit return schemes and possibly other charges, so the sector must be prepared for this.
Currently, fish and chips shops use three main packaging materials, EPS (foam), paperboard (cardboard) and ‘bio’ packaging, mostly in the form of bagasse. We know from our discussions with DEFRA that foam is likely to be negatively targeted as part of their raft of measures to reduce single-use packaging and encourage the use of recyclable materials.
However, we need to bear in mind that EPS/foam is actually 98% air (the polystyrene bead is expanded to create the packaging) and is very light, has great insulating properties and is biologically inert so cannot transfer bacteria or germs - three very sound properties for packaging. It’s also a myth that EPS cannot be recycled, it’s just that very few collection or recycling facilities currently exist in the UK.
In recent years cardboard has become more popular in terms of packaging and, of course, card can be readily recycled at home. However, there is the issue of contamination by fat and foodstuffs, although this is often overstated, but again customer education could help improve recycling rates and reduce contamination.
The biomaterial bagasse has also become widely used as a packaging format. This is made from starch and fibre derived as a by-product from sugar cane production and as such is an imported material. Although bagasse is a natural product it’s important to remember that it doesn’t break down when littered or discarded and in order to be environmentally effective must go to commercial composting facilities, so this type of material is most suited for use in closed loop environments where collection and composting of the material is easily facilitated - such as universities, leisure parks or stadia.
Compostable material falls into the same category and must be collected for commercial composting - it is vital that customers don’t think these products will break down if littered - they do not. It’s important that careful consideration is given to the recycling and disposal of your packaging when you chose what to use. You might also consider offering your customers the facility to return their packaging to you on a voluntary basis.
We know that the Government does not want to undermine the fish and chip sector and its positive contribution to UK culture, so it is vital that dialogue continues with the various trade associations to ensure that the interests of fish and chip operators are protected. The FPA is working closely with the NFFF and will continue to do so to ensure the continued success of our great fish and chip industry.
Communication is key
A great opportunity exists for friers to communicate to customers whilst they are waiting for their order about their packaging choices and what can be done with the packaging once used, either via leaflets, posters and digital menuboards. If you’re an NFFF member, look out for a series of wall posters and stickers coming soon that can be put on packaging to help achieve this.