As the world isolated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, food delivery companies such as UberEats and Deliveroo experienced an unprecedented surge. Restaurants that were once dine-in only turned to delivery to survive, supported by local residents. This naturally saw an increase in single-use packaging. Can we see safety and sustainability meet in the wake of this crisis? With large outdoor events cancelled, stadiums closed, shopping centres, airports, and CBDs mostly locked down, in some areas we have seen less waste produced.
However, essential services such as hospitals and hotels have turned to disposable foodservice products to increase hygiene and prevent infection, as have large canteens such as those in manufacturing and mining sites. Many businesses that are planning to reopen in the coming weeks have signalled they will be adopting single-use foodservice items to reduce the risk of an outbreak in the workplace. Patterns of consumption and behaviour have changed rapidly but what are the environmental impacts of this? How can we ensure a return to the 'new normal' that does not toss plastic pollution to the wayside? The largest cities in the world have marvelled at the clear, blue skies during the virus – it's now time to think about our management of waste.
Let's use this as an opportunity to promote compostable alternatives to single-use packaging. If we have to use single-use packaging, let's ensure they are produced from sustainably sourced, rapidly renewable materials that are certified carbon neutral and compostable. By using compostable packaging in tandem with a compost collection system, we can reduce waste collection fees and create nutrient-rich compost. The private sector cannot achieve change on its own. Governments around the world are embracing compostable single-use packaging because they recognise it could help to address the problems of waste and greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste was a country it would be the third largest contributor to emissions in the world. In Australia, eateries contribute more than 660,000 tonnes of food waste per year. Businesses can use bioplastic cups and sugarcane containers, both of which are compostable, and sign up to their local compost service to divert food waste and packaging from landfill. Let's use this crisis as an opportunity to lobby for green solutions and reduce waste.
Planet Friendly Packaging acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we work. Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by COVID-19. Stay safe.