Single-use plastic ban

"Long overdue"

Daniela Aug is glad that a law will put a stop to the flood of disposable waste.
Daniela Aug is glad that a law will put a stop to the flood of disposable waste.

Since the beginning of July 2021, many single-use plastic items - such as disposable tableware, drinking straws or Styrofoam to-go cups - have been banned throughout the EU. In addition, restaurateurs will be required to offer a reusable alternative from 2023, which is a challenge given the simultaneous increase in take-away and delivery. VKK President Daniela Aug thinks the law does not go far enough.

Daniela Aug is head of the kitchen at St. Franziskus Hospital in Bielefeld and has been president of the VKK Association of Kitchen Managers since 2017. For her hospital, she has long been developing a successful catering and event service as an additional mainstay. Rethinking only works if everyone has the know-how and the tools, she says.

Ms. Aug, what do you think about the ban on single-use plastic and the upcoming obligation to use reusable plastic?
Daniela Aug: Personally I see the prohibition as long overdue, completely particularly, since also the industry stands in the responsibility to offer consumers the production of the pollution free alternatives. It would be desirable to tackle the additional development of an even more effective, worldwide recycling system. In my opinion, this is the biggest weakness in our environmental system.

The rethinking with us all functions only if it belongs naturally to the subject matter, in all training occupations and courses of studies and naturally also in kindergartens and schools. This is a challenge for each and every one of us. From a business point of view, finding substitutes for plastic products for to-go is not an easy task, especially when there is no time for research in the daily work routine. But the effort is worth it, because the aha effect that an alternative offer has long been available soon sets in. Suppliers offer various raw materials such as sugar cane, wood, glass, bamboo and palm leaf - most of which are compostable. In addition, suppliers and wholesalers offer support with product information and queries.

We as the VKK association of kitchen management also offer our members assistance in obtaining the necessary information. We see ourselves as a useful part of the network of the large-scale consumer sector, as an industrious wheel in the structure. We take this as an opportunity to go one step further according to the motto "less waste also in the out-of-home business".

Which products had to be sorted out due to the single-use plastic regulation? Which containers/packaging parts are the most difficult to replace?
We started looking at our to-go area some time ago and swapped the following products for environmentally friendly ones: drinking straws, stirrers, plastic cutlery and carrier bags were changed to wooden products. Now, aluminum bowls with lids for lunches, plastic wrap to cover, clear to-go cups for fruit salad and fresh salads, and coffee cups with interior foil are our focus. Possible substitute products are being tested. The only product without a positive result is soft plastic bottles of still water.

Which products/materials do you rely on as disposable substitutes?
For several months we have been looking for disposable substitutes, compostable products instead of aluminium trays for lunch menus, for take-away. As an alternative to plastic to-go cups for fruit salad, muesli, yoghurt, curds and salads, we have chosen corn starch products. We replace foiled coffee cups with either Bielefeld to-go cups made from Ornamin or paper cups made from sustainable wood products.

How do you rate the range of plastic alternatives?
The range is already diverse. Our suppliers have provided us with a catalogue of sustainable and "fair" substitutes for easier selection. The only downer at the moment is unfortunately the still relatively high price.

Are there any special regulations in the health care sector?
I am not aware of any special regulations. Of course, the focus should be on all products here and now. In the case of all individually portioned products such as butter, jam, coffee milk, etc., which have to remain portioned from a hygiene point of view, we are waiting to see what solutions the industry comes up with. There are also many other individually packaged sales items, such as hygiene items made of disposable plastic. So I beg the question, is this necessary?

How will the changeover be communicated to guests?
The flow of information will vary - both personal conversations and circular e-mails to customers. It remains to be seen what the reactions of the catering customers will be. We may have to think about a price surcharge and/or a deposit system.

Does the reusable system also affect you in the hospital environment? Which system will you use? When do you expect it to be implemented across the board?
Yes, we are also subject to the reusable system. Expectations are a thing, we depend on what the industry offers us, what alternatives we are offered and whether they can be implemented.

Have there been any significant additional costs in connection with the ban?
No, not so far. According to the price lists for the new products, we expect increased costs.
Every innovation leads to a higher price, but we should keep in mind that our habitat, the available resources, represent an unconditional value.

Did processes have to be changed?
The process changes are the next step in the chain - whether purchasing, warehouse, kitchen or sales area. Everywhere there they are adapted to the new situation. Not every alternative product will meet expectations 1:1. What has been running virtually as a matter of course until now now has to be reorganized.

About Daniela Aug
Daniela Aug is responsible for the kitchen management at Franziskus Hospital, Bielefeld. With just under 50 employees, her fresh kitchen caters to around 300 patients and operates a lunch service under "Menü mobil" for private customers and daycare centers, but also for events. Since November 2017, she has been president of the Association of Kitchen Managers e.V. (VKK).