Speciality Breads managing director Simon Cannell on how the frozen baked goods business is working to address its plastic use.

In a year that has included more Brexit mayhem, a royal wedding, Trump turmoil, a surge in veganism, a Football World Cup and record-breaking temperatures, it has been great to see that the environment, and specifically the oceans, have been holding their own in the media.

This is mainly thanks to one of the nation’s most-loved heroes David Attenborough, whose Blue Planet series late last year aired horrific images showing our oceans plastered with plastic. This shocked, embarrassed and, I’m happy to say, mobilised people and businesses into trying to address this huge threat to the environment, ecosystems and earth as a whole.

While these waves of positive change abound, we have been looking into our wider CSR policy and specifically plastics in our business. Fortunately, our use of plastic is relatively low compared to many food manufacturers, due to the unique preserving benefits of frozen food. However, we still use more than we’d like. So in our continuous improvement efforts, we have to do better.

For anyone who has looked into plastics and their alternatives, though, especially for food, you will be aware that it is not straightforward. Here are some of the options:

  • Oxo-degradable – this will not degrade unless it’s disposed of correctly, so can actually be very bad for the environment.
  • Compostable/starch-based polymers – these have a strong odour so are not suitable for food and need optimum conditions to ensure that they degrade.
  • Photodegradable – these have a short shelf life and break down into small pieces, which can again actually make it worse for the environment.
  • Recycled – this is not allowed for food-contact packaging.

It is great to see innovation on the move, but there are no easy options for us at the moment.  

I’d like to see the government provide more direction and support for businesses on this, rather than just using the issue to score points in the press.

Meanwhile, we will continue to research, test and try new methods that can help us reach our new environmental targets by 2020, which include reducing our consumption of single-use plastic by 50% and ensuring all packaging is recyclable or recycled, if used for outer/non-food-contact packaging.

It would be great to see the baking industry lead from the front, as I believe that, together, we can make a big difference and help to reverse the damage done.