Lunch break without disposable packaging

Companies are reducing their disposable containers in canteens and coffee kitchens or replacing them with plastic-free packaging. More and more restaurant operators are converting their packaging and tableware ranges. 

When “meal time” is called at lunchtime, it’s time to go to the cafeteria: many companies offer their employees catering services. But not everyone who buys a meal there also eats it there. Sometimes the coffee is taken out into the fresh air, sometimes the salad is eaten in the office. Packaging waste is often generated, mostly from plastic. But that’s about to change: More and more companies are dispensing with disposable containers in their canteens and kitchens. According to Vodafone, the telecommunications group is banning 38 disposable plastic products such as drinking cups, lids, stirrers, meal trays or straws or replacing them with plastic-free alternatives containing natural raw materials such as cardboard, bamboo and wood. But new, smart materials made of corn or sugar cane, which are compostable and completely degradable, are also ingredients for the menu packaging. According to Vodafone, this will result in about 15 tons less plastic waste per year than before.

In addition, Vodafone wants to sensitize its employees to the topic: Simple questions help: Why do I pick up a plastic bottle even though there are glasses? Does it have to be the plastic cup even though there is a returnable cup on the shelf? “Nobody is criticized – it’s about making people aware of how their daily consumption of plastic can be reduced,” says the company guideline. And it’s about small incentives: If, for example, you bring your own reusable cup 15 times for your coffee, the next hot drink will be free. Vodafone CEO Hannes Ametsreiter explains: “It’s the small things that make the big things happen. We stirred a takeaway coffee in four seconds and drunk it in four minutes – but it takes nature 400 years to break it down. It’s high time we changed our minds and questioned our habits.” Siemens, Dr. Oetker, Sky and Allianz also announced that they had severely restricted the use of disposable products in canteens in recent years. Sky, for example, wants to remove the entire disposable plastic from its operations by 2020.


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DB Gastronomie GmbH continues to offer its guests in its approximately 100 casinos – which can also be used by external customers – the option of taking almost all their food with them in packaging. “Many guests appreciate this service, but also see the resulting plastic waste. The environmental awareness of our guests is increasing and we want to do justice to this,” explains the company. That’s why the To-Go tableware has been made from 100 percent renewable raw materials for almost two years now. The cellulose fibres in the coffee and dessert cups, for example, are made from wood obtained from sustainable forestry. The menu and salad bowls are made of sugar cane fibres, which are produced by sugar extraction during the production of cane sugar. The particularly tough fibres have so far been burnt. DB Gastronomie explains that up to 50 disposable plates can be produced from the remains of a single sugar cane blade.

The companies are anticipating the EU ban, which is expected to come into force in 2021 and will ban certain disposable plastic tableware from trade and gastronomy. The trend towards sustainability and the EU directive are also topical issues for companies in the system catering sector, i.e. those that operate canteens and coffee bars in companies, universities or hospitals.

Guests want to take packed meals with them

The Compass Group, market leader for catering and food services in Germany, has been explicitly called upon by its parent company in England to reduce plastic packaging. Pia Bonke from Health, Environment, Safety, Quality (HSEQ) Management explains that customers are also demanding plastic-free alternatives. However, it would be faster and easier to banish plastic from company catering than from canteen kitchens and cafés in schools, retirement homes or hospitals, which belong to the group’s 600 food operations. “There are certain guests who are dependent on a straw or a packaged single portion. We are faced with the decision of which disposable packaging to discontinue and which, albeit few, guests we need,” says Bonke. There are pilot projects that have been successful to date: Some catering establishments of the subsidiary Eurest have completely replaced disposable cups with returnable containers with a deposit system. The to-go cup is a thing of the past there. And take-away sandwiches, for example, are offered with banderoles made of recycled paper. “In the case of a major customer, we have noticed that it is possible to switch from portioned goods to buffet bars such as mueslist stations and glass bowls for jam in almost all stores, for example, in order to reduce waste,” Bonke continues. In Unitymedia’s company canteen, which operates Eurest, all to-go trays and cups are made of organic cardboard or pressed sugar cane. “In the canteen we offer 80 percent reusable glass bottles. In the café 100 percent,” reports operations manager Sebastian Witte.  They are planning to offer a rental box for hot food and take-away salads. There are more and more such examples, says Bonke.

“We are in the process of adding packaging materials made from corn starch, milk starch and sugar cane to the packaging range. The fact is that many customers want to take a meal with them, for example after work,” Bonke sums up. Sustainable tableware is a step in the right direction, but in the long term the waste management system must also be developed more strongly in this direction. “If the more sustainable cups, which also cost consumers more, end up in the incinerator and eliminate carbon dioxide, that doesn’t make sense to me,” says Bonke. “We’re working on a good solution to use less plastic and maintain high standards of service and hygiene.”

Hygiene is a reason for plastic packaging

Apetito AG makes similar comments. “Among other things, we want to minimize waste and the use of valuable resources as much as possible. That’s why we always strive to use only the absolutely necessary packaging material,” explains Verena Koordt of Apetito AG’s Corporate Communications department. An example of this is the MultiPlus system, which enables individual menu compilations. “Behind this is the system that menu components are deep-frozen into small blocks and delivered to our customers with as little packaging as possible. Since each block is a single portion, our customers can plan portion exact and thus avoid food leftovers,” says Verena Koordt.


For hygienic reasons, however, Apetito is currently unable to do without plastic packaging for all its products. The menu trays used by Apetito are made of CPET, a polyester. “This plastic is characterized by special heat resistance and chemical resistance and does not require any plasticizers to be added. The application range up to approx. 220 degrees Celsius makes the trays suitable for all common preparation systems for deep-frozen dishes. “We are continuing to work on further reducing the proportion of plastic in our packaging or even replacing it completely. For example, a project group is working on developing an alternative to the plastic menu tray. However, several years of development work are required before optimal solutions can be found. After all, the safety and quality of our products has top priority for us in everything we do,” says Koordt.

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