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The England single-use ban is here: what you need to know about alternatives to disposables

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

With the looming legislation coming into effect in a few months, food & beverage businesses, especially catering companies, are now in an unique position to adapt to the growing sector of alternatives to single-use plastics; this could also means optimising operations, reducing costs, and reaching sustainability goals.

If you think bioplastics and other compostable products on the market are the perfect replacement of single-use plastics, think again. Whilst these are advertised as environmentally friendly, the reality is much more complicated. We have compiled some points for consideration that might persuade you to explore beyond compostable packaging:

There is a lack of infrastructure for compostable packaging to work

The UK's current waste management infrastructure cannot process the immense volume of compostable food and drink packaging used. Organisations investing time and money to move away from single-use plastics find the compostables being processed as general waste instead. For instance, in 2018 UK Parliament decided to switch from single-use plastic to compostable single-use cutlery, coffee cups and lids, and all food containers. It was reported all of the compostable packaging waste created in the first 7 months of implementation was sent to be incinerated, rather than into composting by the waste management company due to lack of composting facilities available in the area (Source).

Improper disposal causes cross contamination and further pollution

It is common for used compostable packaging to be thrown into the recycling bins. Furthermore, poor waste sorting systems mean that compostables often end up in wrong waste streams. When compostables end up in the recycling waste stream, they can contaminate full batches of recycling and condemn them to landfill, creating unexpected waste.

Compostable packaging comes with unexpected costs

Good compostable packaging is expensive, and it is even more expensive to install the additional waste stream in your company to properly dispose of used compostables. An interesting 2019 investigation by Footprint showed the complexity of compostable packaging due to the shortcomings of the waste supply chain. After investing >£70K a year to develop a bespoke waste stream for compostables, all waste from House of Parliament collected between 2018 and 2019 (estimated 3.25 tonnes compostable waste) were incinerated instead of composted due to lack of facilities. As compostable packaging becomes more popular, it is essential to evaluate the reality of compost capabilities, and whether the high investment needed to set up a compostable waste stream may reap the opposite environmental result.

Further restrictions are on the way

England might decide to follow the footsteps of the EU parliament to implement further restrictions on single-use waste, with Wales and Scotland already promised to align with such rules. This includes a ban already in place on single-use packaging for food and drink filled and consumed on the premises, with much steeper targets planned for 2040. By then, 80% of hot and cold beverages as well as 40% of takeaway meals will need to be sold in reusable packaging (Source). It will be wise for businesses to stay ahead of legislative changes and implement proper measures beyond the band-aid solution of adapting compostable packaging.

Reuse systems are better alternatives than compostable packaging

Compostable packaging simply does not solve the waste problem. To tackle the single-use waste problem, it is essential to avoid using single-use altogether and focus on solutions that provide a holistic approach with circular economy thinking at the core. Reuse is a great alternative where materials are used until the end of their lifecycle, avoiding emissions from downcycling processes.

Cauli's smart reuse solution is tailored to help the catering industry addresses issues of the current linear take-make-waste system, and help you implement a truly circular solution that works, looks good, and is incredibly easy to manage!

  • Truly sustainable solution - Cauli has been designed with circularity at its heart. Our newest Life Cycle Assessment estimates that CauliBoxes have the potential to reduce the CO2 footprint of compostable boxes by 98.7% with over 400 uses per each reusable container, on top of massively reducing the volume of landfill waste.

  • Be ahead of the changing regulatory requirements - It is easy with Cauli to ensure compliance. We provide you with all the necessary software, reusable containers and return kiosks so you can focus on what you do best.

  • Measure your impact and reach your net zero targets - Our smart tracking system offers tangible data on usage and environmental impact can be used towards your ESG reporting.

  • Cut costs - Cauli is comparable in cost with compostable alternatives. Better yet, the more you use it, the cheaper it gets! For example, using 100 compostable containers for your mains daily would cost you around £21, whilst a daily subscription to 100 CauliBoxes is only £9.50.* Consider also savings you can make through reusables as you send less waste to the waste management contractors.

  • Employee engagement - Our tools allow you to engage with your employees on a meaningful level and reward them for their sustainable behaviour with our fully managed CaulinCoins reward system.

As UK moves away from the traditional linear model of waste, we can take a significant step forward in addressing the environmental challenges of single-use packaging. Reuse systems offer a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional methods. By choosing to work with a company that has a proven track record of helping businesses transition towards more sustainable solutions like Cauli, you can be confident that your organization is making a positive step towards a more sustainable future.

If you are a food and beverage business looking for a hassle-free sustainable solution, get in touch with Cauli at to learn more!

*Average cost of compostable container taken from assumed at 21p per large box.


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