Environmentally Friendly Catering
About 15 years ago I had the bright idea of switching to environmentally friendly catering. In fact we decided to switch not only our catering operations, but our travelling funfairs to a more sustainable method of operating.
We made some great advances on this front. Had a bit of attention from the press and even received a couple of environmental awards. Things seemed rosy and I felt I had made a good decision. But then a pattern started to emerge. We would quote for jobs, and explain all about how we were doing our bit for the environment. But we received a lot of replies along the lines of, ‘We really love what you are doing, unfortunately the non environmentally friendly companies are cheaper then you so we are going with them!’
For a time it looked like we could be the most environmentally friendly bankrupt funfair company. So sadly we had to dial down on what we were doing.
We feel now is the time to relaunch our initiative. Biodegradable consumables made from bamboo, paper and plant based products are becoming ever more affordable. Things like LED lighting are being mass produced to the stage they are getting cheaper than traditional alternatives. And many of our customers are starting to make environmental credentials an important part of their purchasing process.
To this end we are ramping up our green credentials. Well we going to if we ever get released from this bloody lockdown.
I’ll try and summarise our intentions, along with how we compare to where we were 15 years ago.
Looking at our environmental statement from years back, we were going through some 20000 sheets of office paper a year. Over the course of 12 months, we had managed to reduce this to 15000. Our intention was to get it down to 5000 a year. This has been an easy win. Most of our clients are now happy to accept pdf versions of our safety document packs. We average less than 1000 sheets of office paper per annum.
This will no doubt help keep enough paper stocks available for the toilet roll industry to keep up with the current demand from the deranged panic buyers.
Last time we tried switching to greener alternatives, coffee cups weren’t too bad, but everything else was prohibitively expensive.
Nowadays there is a vastly improved choice. For many items such as doughnuts and churros we use bamboo boats. For larger items like jacket potatoes, we have found a good range of boxes and plates made from sugarcane bagasse . Bagasse is a residue from sugar cane production. Products derived from it include biofuel, wood substitute and now catering items. It looks very much like polystyrene but is fully biodegradable.
Knives, forks and spoons have been switched to wood. And a few of the items such as waffles on a stick are served in paper trays. In all I don’t think we have anything left being served in plastic.
Food Waste Composting
Its fine having environmentally friendly catering products, but there is another issue. Food waste. Any event we attend there is always some level of waste food. Whether its guests not quite finishing their servings, or the fact that we have cooked a few too many hot dogs. In the past this will all have ended up in landfill.
Last time we went down this route, we acquired a Swedish hot composting system. You would feed it with waste food, and a mixture of dry wood pellets. Then give it a good spin to mix it. Bacteria would slowly heat the mixture up and consume the food and waste to leave a rich compost, ideal for the garden.
Sadly our original composter was destroyed, (someone ran over it) and never replaced.
We are now looking at adding something to replace this to ensure we can remove our small amount of food waste from the landfill system. One system that does look promising is the HotBin compost system. Like our old Swedish system, you add food waste and in this case shredded paper. The system again raises the heat to allow microbial action to reduce everything to a separate mix of solid compost and liquid leachate (which makes a great liquid fertiliser). We are still looking at system, but as soon as this virus pandemic ends we will place an order for a system of some kind.
Biofuels For Our Generators
This is one avenue were we have had to admit defeat. What we discovered was that the newer generating plant we had didn’t like 100% biodiesel. Some of the older stuff would run happily on it, though we had to change many of the rubber fuel lines. The trouble is, the newer kit is both less polluting to begin with, and also far more fuel efficient. So it didn’t make sense to swap the latest kit back to stuff that was 20 years out of date.
Because of the transitory nature of funfairs, there isn’t really any scope to make use of renewable power. The one exception perhaps is the classic helter skelter. Because it is powered by gravity, it can operate without a power source, needing just power for lighting. Before we disposed of ours, I had drawn up plans to use a combination of a solar powered battery charger and small wind turbine to constantly charge a battery pack, and then use an inverter to power LED lighting throughout the ride. I still think this would work.
This is one avenue that is actually coming of age. LED lighting prices are now falling to the extent where they are only a smallish premium over incandescent lighting. Additionally LED lights take far less power to run, with the result that either smaller more fuel efficient generators can be used to power them, or the larger generators are working less and saving fuel. With the chancellors decision to remove the tax rebate on red diesel (used to power generators) its now reached the stage where its a no brainer to make the switch. The fuel savings alone will pay the costs back pretty quickly. And technically LED should last far longer than a traditional light bulb.
To ensure that we can communicate the extent of our green push to our clients we are looking at a number of certification systems which would officially show our work. In the past we were part of a few different initiatives, but these petered out over time.
In summary offering environmentally friendly catering is something that is fast becoming a must, rather than an optional extra.