Three months into a ban on single-use plastic packaging in Scotland, operators in other parts of the UK are being encouraged to get ahead before similar legislation comes into force where they are
In June this year, certain single-use plastics were banned in Scotland, forcing shops to look for more eco-friendly alternatives to the 300 million plastic straws, 276 million pieces of plastic cutlery, 50 million plastic plates and 66 million polystyrene food containers it was estimated that the country used annually.
Although in other parts of the UK no definitive date has been set to follow suit, consultations and proposals put forward by government suggests they won’t be far behind in banning or restricting the sale of some of the most commonly littered single-use plastics.
Ahead of the ban
Some fish and chip shops in Scotland were way ahead of the ban. The Cafe Royal in Annan, Dumfries and Galloway, for example, switched from polystyrene to bio-boxes and bioplastics, and from plastic carrier bags to paper ones more than 15 years ago.
Prices back then were “super expensive” says owner John Pagani – in the region of 30p plus for a bio-box – but it was a price he was willing to pay for the environment and for a better product.
John recommends other shops act now too, saying not only do fish and chips carry better in cardboard and paper over polystyrene and plastic, but that it is better to be the first to act rather than the last.
“Get ahead now and start telling your customers because people care about the environment,” he says. “It’s not their number one priority, it’s not ours – ours at the moment is staying open – however, it is up there with good service, and your local community want to see that businesses are minimising their impact on the environment.
“Bite the bullet, make the changes before its law then you’re not scrambling around at the last minute looking for suppliers, you’ve got time to get organised and tell your customers about it. It’s an opportunity to set yourself apart before everybody else does it, an opportunity that won’t come again. Once it is law, that will be it.”
Holding many shops back from making the switch to more environmentally-friendly packaging is often the costs involved. This was certainly the case for Marco Luni, owner of Marco’s Fish & Chips in Ayr on the southwest coast of Scotland, who admits that had it not been for the ban, it may have been much further down the line that he ditched polystyrene trays and plastic bags in favour of biodegradable trays and paper bags.
When the legislation came in, Marco’s bill for just one tray size tripled initially but shopping around different suppliers – including going direct to packaging companies – has helped bring the takeaway’s weekly packaging bill down from £1,000 to £600.
“Shop about,” says Marco, “because it can be a big difference. I’m saving £400, which is better in my pocket. But the packaging has to be of the same quality because you never skimp on quality, that’s how you end up losing customers.”
Rather than the business absorb the added cost, Marco has built it into his prices, although only partially, adding just two thirds. He comments: “If you think about it, people come in and buy more than one item but might only use one box, which brings the cost down a bit. With the bags too, instead of putting two items in, we put four in so the cost differs from customer to customer and that’s why we only put two-thirds of the price on.”
One way to justify the additional costs of moving to more environmentally-friendly forms of packaging is to see it as part of your marketing budget, in light of the fact you can promote the benefits to your customers.
East Coast Fish & Chips in Musselburgh, East Lothian, opened its doors in 2018 using fully compostable and fully biodegradable packaging, from cutlery and napkins to boxes and bags. It’s something owner Carlo Crolla has been keen to promote to his customers, commenting: “We’re always taking photos of our packaging and putting it on social media, reminding customers it’s all biodegradable and compostable. It’s the extra things that we do, like the packaging, that makes my business special.”
Hit by rising costs, Carlo has taken the step of moving away from bespoke branded bags and says it is an option for shops that want to make a saving while still being conscious of the environment. He comments: “I looked at areas where I could reduce my costs and thought, okay bags are something that are always going out so we moved to the Henry Colbeck Hook & Fish ones. It’s such difficult times so you have to look at everything and that’s a change I could live with. Also, I don’t have to buy the bags in bulk anymore. Before I would have to order 10,000 in advance, which ties up cash flow.”
When it is time to make the switch, whether voluntarily or due to legislation, The Cafe Royal’s John Pagani has one final piece of advice. “It has to be a company-wide initiative,” he says “Make sure all the staff are fully-trained in knowing what your packaging is and its impact – or lack of it – on the environment because you will get customers that lack that knowledge.”