The first ‘Irish Times’ sustainability survey: restaurants and cafes

Part 1: Insomnia, Avoca, Brother Hubbard, Press Up, Hatch & Sons and more

 

This is an edited selection of responses to a sustainability survey that The Irish Times asked a selection of food businesses to take part in.

November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related articles in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related articles in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth

Kai, Galway

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
Kai has a policy in place for no use of single plastics and we hope that this is 100 per cent operational by 2019. The only plastics we have coming in is through our fair trade teas, coffee bags (which we are working on bulk ordering from Cloud Picker in Dublin) and on our meats. We have already changed all our to-go materials to compostable and all our boxes are made from corn starch which breaks down easily in the compost bin.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
This is now a topical issue, which we are delighted about. We are so aware of the impact of our behaviour on our own micro environment and now as well the ecosystem. We work with Walsh Waste and they have a strategic plan in place specific to restaurants and food, this has been invaluable and has lead us to being named as one of the top 20 most sustainable restaurants in Europe.

Are you clear on what is and is not recyclable in terms of plastics?
Yes, but only because we as a business sought out information and have educated ourselves and our team on this.

Is the public more committed to sustainability recycling? Is so, why do you believe that to be the case?
We are the KeepCup generation, but more needs to be done. Right now we need to shame people into carrying a tote bag, bringing a lunch box to the local market for your pestos, curries etc, stop getting coffee in takeaway cups and also stop wasting food.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
We have a more veg-led business – they are the star of the plate and the show. There is little or no waste when cooking. Same with meats and fish, using the bones for stock. Taking a look at portion sizes too has been key; it is not about volume it’s about quality food. We also are totally open to people taking home their food and also, if you don’t want the bread or salad just say so, we’d rather that than throwing out any food.

Are your customers raising issues of sustainability including plastic use. If yes, please give an indication of their concerns?
They are. We are all on this buzz right now, but we need to really action it and not just talk the talk with our conscious conversations and KeepCup. We need to look at the bigger picture and change our behaviour of over consumption and throw away lifestyles.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
It is our business. Sustainability is about being better, using local suppliers, stopping all unnecessary packaging and looking at how you can actually make an impact. We use all eco products including soaps, cleaners and toilet roll.

Brother Hubbard, Dublin

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
We banned the use of single-use plastic straws some time ago and 90 per cent of all of our packaging for take-away is compostable/recyclable. Furthermore, we believe it is not enough to reduce the use of single-use plastic alone - we are encouraging all of our customers to use less packaging overall. Whilst plastics might be the biggest issue, we believe that environmentally-friendly packaging isn’t friendly enough. It all requires massive amounts of energy to be manufactured, transported, used and recycled/composted. Hence, each and every customer is asked if they need a bag/box/fork/knife/spoon/napkin, rather than just “doling” them out as is common in so many places.

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
Yes - we’ve requested our suppliers to avoid unnecessary packaging wherever possible. This has had mixed results. Our main supplier for fresh ingredients does try but is not always able to source items that use less packaging. It seems to be the nature of the marketplace alas.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
Yes, we are far more cognisant of what we can do in this regard. It is an on-going learning curve for all of us but we’ve engaged with our refuse service provider over the past year to learn more about what we can do, what can recycled etc. With items we don’t need any more (crockery, equipment, etc.), our default is to engage with a charity shop to see if they can make use of it.

Are you clear on what is and is not recyclable in terms of plastics?
More clarity would be of additional help. We recently engaged with RecycleList Ireland to get better information - for our own benefit but we also embarked upon a customer “education and incentive” programme aimed at encouraging our customers to make the right decisions around recycling but also composting.

Is the public more committed to sustainability recycling? Is so, why do you believe that to be the case?
Yes, we’ve seen more and more customers engage with us on what we do and what they can do. We’ve been running our KeepCup Discount Scheme for over five years now and, while at the start we were almost alone in Dublin offering this incentive and saw only low levels of uptake, it is something that has grown exponentially over the last 18 months in particular.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
We’ve always aimed for a low food waste outcome. We are proud to say that we feel that we achieve this. Our food is fresh but managed very carefully. We record all wastage daily in order to ensure it is tracked, measured and reacted to. Overall, we experience extremely low levels of food waste.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
It means that we focus on developing our offering, processes and operations so that they minimise negative impacts on the environment. We consider how we and our patrons consume materials and energy in this regard. It is highlighted in our Mission Statement so all of our team know the importance of it.

Copia Green, Limerick

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
Copia Green’s take away packaging is 100 per cent compostable and made from sugar cane residue, corn starch and bamboo.

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
Yes, through our parent company Masterchefs we have been working with our suppliers for many years to reduce the amount of packaging coming into the business. All of our suppliers have partnered with us to ensure that only minimum packaging is used. For items such as fruit, vegetables, fish and meats, we immediately transfer them into our own storage containers - our suppliers take away and recycle their delivery boxes.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
Our stated aim is for Copia Green is to be a zero waste business.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
We aim to use as much of a product as possible including its so called by-products. For example, we make our own labneh (cultured yoghurt) and the leftover whey is used as a brine in our fermented foods. We use the pulp from juicing veggies and fruits in our gluten-free crackers. The almond pulp from making our nut milks we use in our broccoli and almond soup. Naturally we compost all our food scraps. Even our pens are compostable.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
Copia Green’s commitment to sustainability is conscious in every business decision we make along the consumption life-cycle; what we choose, purchase, consume and discard. We are purposefully creating an impact that lasts and redefining what an eatery can be.

Press Up Group

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
At the start of 2018 we committed to lowering the level of plastic used across the group. The first step here was to remove plastic straws from circulation across all venues and introduce compostable paper straws, which are available only when requested. For those venues where paper straws aren’t feasible (Wowburger and Stella Theatre as they use the soft drink cups with lids), we have sourced compostable straws that look and feel just like plastic.

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Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
We were delighted to partner with WineLabs to roll out a ‘wine on tap’ initiative across all our restaurants. Following on from this, we rolled out this initiative in Dollard & Co again, partnering with WineLabs Ireland - and we were the first retailer in Ireland to do so.

Has recycling/reuse improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
Yes. By increasing the amount of recycling across the group it has lowered the cost of waste disposal. From a staffing point of view, too, there is less time spent on handling and disposing of glass bottles as a result of the move to wine on tap. Since January of this year, we have saved 13.142 tonnes of glass and 1.3 tonnes of cardboard and 22,530 corks, capsules and labels. (1 tonne = a small car) by working with WineLabs on this wine on tap system.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
The waste and recycling that is generated is disposed of in the most eco-friendly manor with a ‘zero to landfill policy’. Food waste is processed at an ‘enhanced anaerobic digestion facility’ which also traps the methane to create electricity. General waste is sent to a waste energy plant, glass recycled back into bottles and cardboard and recycling fully recovered. We give preference to suppliers that share our commitment and encourage a holistic sustainability programme across our back of house operations.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
Within the Press Up Group we are very conscious of our commitment and responsibility to respect the environment and to work with our staff and suppliers to meet and exceed industry standards, with a sincere desire to become leaders in sustainability.

Cliff Group

Cliff House Hotel, Cliff Townhouse, Cliff at Lyons
What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
We are trying to look for alternatives - paper straws instead of plastic, paper disposable cups, replacing plastic bags with paper or another biodegradable material. We invest in containers with lids, instead of using plastics for this.

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
We are restricted by health and safety guidelines , the packaging of items is out of the suppliers control at times. It is of course nonsense that, for example, a box of cucumbers are all individually wrapped in plastic. It helps that we can grow some of our own produce, in the gardens at Cliff at Lyons, and in Cliff House Hotel, with our collaboration with St Rapheals Day Care Centre in Youghal, we harvest as much of our own produce as possible.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
We recycle as much as possible, this is by law. All waste streams are separated and we compost all our food waste. If possible, old bread, fruit and vegetable trimmings sometimes go to people who have pigs.

3FE

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
In the cafes, we are in the process of phasing out single-use plastic, replacing with compostable or reusable alternatives, where appropriate (for example, we will still have plastic straws available for those that need one). This mostly applies to the food packaging for takeaway food. Our new takeaway cups have a non-plastic lining that can be broken down in a normal paper recycling process.

In the roastery, we have just finished a packaging audit, and have identified a number of key points in order to target single-use plastic. The biggest issue is with the coffee bags; because soft plastics cannot be recycled in Ireland, we are exploring compostable and reusable alternatives. We are also switching packaging such as plastic mailing bags and bubble wrap to paper alternatives.

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
Yes, and the response has been encouraging. It is definitely something that all suppliers and businesses are becoming more aware of. We have been in long-term discussions with our bag supplier about more sustainable packaging options. We hope to have a solution in the coming months. We also asked our food suppliers to deliver products in reusable containers wherever possible, which we return on the next delivery. Some items are sent in cardboard, which we recycle. The biggest remaining offender is plastic wrapping for meat and fish, which we have not yet found a solution for with our suppliers.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
A big project over the last year has been diverting waste from landfill at our roastery in Glasnevin; in the past 12 months we have diverted almost two tonnes of waste, either by finding recycling companies that accept unusual items (for example polystyrene recycling at Rehab Recycle or printer cartridge recycling) or by finding new uses for waste products. The coffee chaff by-product makes great compost or chicken coop bedding, and the jute coffee sacks have been used for upholstery and agricultural uses. A huge help in this matter has been the Smile Resource Exchange, which connects businesses to find a useful home for waste products.

Is the public more committed to sustainability recycling? Is so, why do you believe that to be the case?
Yes - there’s been a great deal of media coverage recently surrounding the changing recycling agreements with countries like China. We feel this has spurred people on to look more closely at the entire recycling process, rather than assuming that everything is taken care of once an item goes in the green bin (ourselves included). However, there’s still a long way to go, and public commitment needs to be matched by decisive action at a national policy level, for example with incentives such as the recycling deposit schemes seen in other EU countries.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
The majority of the food waste comes from the cafes and kitchens. Head chef Holly Dalton has put in place a fantastic programme to reduce food waste. In her own words: “Every brownie corner is turned into a cake truffle, every broken flapjack becomes granola. Chicken bones from our chicken for sandwiches become stock, vegetable skins are washed and turned into purees. Banana skins are frozen, blitzed and put into banana bread. Even mushroom stalks are dehydrated and used to make “umami powder”, a welcome seasoning on practically everything. Excess bacon fat is used to make smoked bacon almonds. Everything has a use and nothing goes to waste.”

As a result, food waste in the last two years has reduced from 6-8kg to 2-3kg per day. As much as possible, the remaining food waste is used as part of our composting, which is then available to customers.

Are your customers raising issues of sustainability including plastic use. If yes, please give an indication of their concerns?
Yes, customers sometimes approach us with questions, primarily regarding takeaway cups and bag packaging, though the sustainability-related questions are more often regarding our coffee sourcing practices. Our goal at the moment is to communicate clearly the steps we are taking and track the progress, via an annual report.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
For us, sustainability means incorporating all three of the pillars - environmental, social, economic - into any decision we make as a business. It’s often easy to plough ahead with a project with environmental benefits without considering the social or economic impacts, and there needs to be a balance of all three to be truly sustainable.

Itsa, Joe’s, Feast Catering and Hatch & Sons

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
Yes, a move to a sustainability model is only possible through a partnership with suppliers. As we conduct internal audits within our business, this includes close assessment of source materials from suppliers. Just as customers expect our business to respond to climate change, we place the same expectation on our suppliers.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
We have seen a move to segregated bin use (general, food, recycling). We achieved “zero waste” category in Joe’s in Montague Street. Water glasses now replace single-use plastic water cups. Single-use plastic cutlery has been replaced with disposable degradable cutlery made from recycled substances. polypropylene straws are being phased out and being replaced with biodegradable green staws. The company is introducing 100 per cent recycled unbleached napkins.

Are you clear on what is and is not recyclable in terms of plastics?
In 2019, the company will roll out additional training to all staff and management. The objective is to educate the workforce on the avoidance of petroleum-based plastics and the damage they are causing to the environment.

Is the public more committed to sustainability recycling? Is so, why do you believe that to be the case?
Yes, customers reach out to our business all the time with comments and suggestions on how to be greener. As a business, we really appreciate our customer input.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
As a food company, we monitor food waste very carefully. We must constantly ask ourselves where and why food waste is occurring. Technology allows us to manage portion controls. Weighing ingredients ensure good value for the customer and the reduction of waste.

Are your customers raising issues of sustainability including plastic use. If yes, please give an indication of their concerns?
Yes, customers regularly reach out to us. The number one concern for customers is putting an end to single-use plastics.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
Sustainability is conscious awareness of environmental protection

The Lighthouse Cafe, Galway

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
Over the last year, we have replaced all our takeaway packaging with compostables and offer a discount on keep-cups/reusable coffee cups

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
A number of our suppliers have reusable boxes which are returned to the drivers to go back to their warehouses. We requested that our loose veg isn’t bagged by our fruit and veg suppliers, which they have done to the best of their ability but some items are delivered to them from their suppliers already packaged.

Are you clear on what is and is not recyclable in terms of plastics?
The waste companies are quite helpful with what is and isn’t recyclable but I feel there’s a bit of wool being pulled over our eyes. There is very little transparency in the area, I only learnt after a lot of researching/asking questions that biodegradable means very little, in a labelling sense. Almost anything can be labelled as biodegradable but if it says compostable then it has to conform to stricter guidelines. The same seems to be true of recyclable, something being potentially recyclable isn’t the same as it actually being recycled in this country, and if there aren’t the facilities to recycle certain things in this country, what happens to it?

Are your customers raising issues of sustainability including plastic use. If yes, please give an indication of their concerns?
We get very few that directly communicate with us about it, you see it more in the changing behavior, people bringing their own cups and saying no to takeaway single use cutlery.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
Sustainability for us, is common sense. If we use less electricity it costs us less. If we produce less waste, our bin charges are lower. If we buy produce from the local area, it will benefit the local economy. It makes sense for us as a small business and the country/world as a whole.

Coffeeangel

Coffeeangel was one of the first coffee shops to launch a campaign to reduce single use cups with our KeepCup campaign #yourcupourfuture.

Our customers have really embraced this campaign and since we launched this time last year we have been able to keep over 10,000 single use cups out of landfill and have raised a significant amount of funds for Friends of the Earth Ireland. Coffeeangel donates 20 cent to FOEI, every time a customer uses any KeepCup in any of our shops.

Our discussions with suppliers are ongoing but the key issue is mainly what happens when the items get to landfill.

Avoca

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
At Avoca, every single decision we make as a company is conducted with a consciousness. As a brand, we have a strong social awareness. We aim to make the right choices around sustainability when, at times, safety, cost and compliance can make it a challenge.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years. If so, how?
As we implement small changes which make a big difference we have noticed not only positive feedback from our customers, but also greater employee engagement in these initiatives. We are proud to be working with Voice Ireland, the environmental organisation, who empower positive action for the conservation of our natural resources. We also support Cool Planet who we work alongside at Avoca Powerscourt.

Are you clear on what is and is not recyclable in terms of plastics?
Yes, and we’re pleased to say we hold regular recycling training for our staff on this matter. More recently, Voice Ireland visited us across all our stores to conduct interactive training sessions for all our staff.

Is the public more committed to sustainability recycling? If so, why do you believe that to be the case?
Yes, there is an elevated consciousness around sustainability and the impact on the environment.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
Our Avoca own brand food is free from additives and preservative resulting in a shorter shelf life. We aim to sell-through our food and have become adept in dealing with minimal waste as a result. Monthly waste reports highlighting the volume of our food waste are circulated to all of our stores and cafes in an effort to increase awareness and reduce our waste. We are proud of the approach we take to manage our food waste resourcefully, for example donating end-of-day food to local charities such as The Simon Community.

Insomnia Coffee

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
This year Insomnia made a significant investment and has taken a strategic approach to reduce the use of single-use plastic in the business and the impact on the environment by launching Mission Compostable - an integrated instore sustainability programme which will, by 2020, divert 15 million takeaway coffee cups and 20 million single use items such as plastic straws, plastic cups and plastic cutlery from landfill. The roll out of Mission Compostable to 2020 will include replacing all of our single use items with reusable or compostable alternatives, including all disposable cutlery.

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging?
Yes, our suppliers also played a big part in our sustainability strategy and they’re involved in the product packaging development.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
Yes. The whole business is very aware of our sustainability strategy and starts at Staff Induction training. Use of reusable cups has increased greatly - 600 per cent in one year. There is a segregated bin in store - there are different sections clearly marked on each bin to show you where to empty liquids from your cup, where to place the cups for composting and where the recyclable lids and any other mixed recycling can be disposed of.

What is your business doing to reduce waste?
After our coffees have been brewed, we repack the coffee grounds and offer them to our customers for free. The advantages the used grounds hold for the environment are countless and another great benefit is that the grounds are not added into landfill. Using coffee grounds on plants and gardens is sustainable and beneficial.

Are your customers raising issues of sustainability, including plastic use?
Yes they are and this was a big motivator in pushing our sustainability strategy this year.

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