Being a sustainable business is hard. It is particularly hard for a business like ours where 98% of our food is taken away (so it needs packaging) and we have to make food in advance for it to be ready for our customers (which creates food waste when we don’t get our planning right!). Balancing convenience for our customers and our responsibility to the environment is a huge challenge. We have worked very hard to make ourselves as sustainable as possible. The details of some of what we do can be found here.
But we get a lot of criticism for using plastic in our business, so we wanted to explain our reasons in more detail. We know we are on the wrong side of this debate in terms of public perception. We could change our packaging to be compostable to make ourselves look better. But we are more interested in doing the right thing than what is perceived to be the right thing. We believe in compostable packaging in the long-term. But, at the moment, if a company is using compostable packaging without the ability to have it collected and processed – and claiming it is more environmentally friendly – they are being disingenuous.
Like most companies, we have a three-stage approach to making our packaging as environmentally friendly as possible:
On reduction and reuse, we are the market-leaders in reusable cups with more than 10% of our customers buying hot drinks from Pure in this way. All of our teams also have their own reusable cups. We are on-track to save over 350,000 cups in this year alone. And if you have visited a Pure you will also know we have free, self-service still and sparkling water stations for everyone. We estimate that we save at least 100,000 plastic water bottles every year by providing free water. The positive impact we are having will grow substantially as we open more shops in the next couple of years. We are very proud of what we have done on reduction and reuse.
It is on recycling where the debate gets more nuanced and where the use of compostable packaging falls down. The UK has a very well-established system for recycling plastic. So long as the plastic is rinsed and goes into the correct bins, it is the only material which can be easily recycled in the UK (at the moment). Although PLA (compostable) packaging is better in many ways, it cannot easily be recycled and ends-up in landfill or turned to energy (this is not a terrible thing). But for recycling, PET (plastic) or RPET (plastic which has already been recycled at least once) is still the best option. The other options such as paper with a plastic lining (e.g. the brown hot food boxes which are widely used) are also not easily recycled. And we explored using Bagasse (made from sugar cane pulp) for our salad bowls. This material has a number of issues, not least of which is the energy used to make it in the first place. But more importantly, it cannot be recycled. So the sad reality is that, at the moment, compostable packaging goes to landfill.
We know we have a lot more to do on reduction and reuse. We are exploring how we can improve the whole time. But on recycling, plastic is the best option for now. And it is even better to use plastic which has already been recycled.
Please contact us if you have new information on compostable packaging and how it can be effectively recycled. We know we are on the wrong side of plastic usage in the public debate but sometimes, it is better to do the right thing than the popular thing.
Here are some references for which might be useful: