The Road to Sustainability: Steps to a Plastic-Free Campus

Across the world, organisations of all shapes and sizes are being forced to reconsider their operating practices as the pressure to protect and maintain the environment steadily ramps up. All aspects of operation are coming under scrutiny; from logistics, to transportation, to each and every element of goods and packaging. A key part of the war on waste is reducing our reliance on plastics. Created from pollutive oils, lasting thousands of years before degrading, and near-ubiquitous, eliminating plastics from any operation represents a major boon in the fight for a greener future. As you could imagine, this is a huge challenge facing food catering for schools.

Education catering is an area with huge potential for environmental improvement due to the sheer amount of disposable resources used in standard food preparation practices, and when the administration of a major educational institution expressed a desire to become more environmentally friendly by moving past the usage of plastics, gather by Cater Care (gather) was with them every step of the way.

Setting the Scene

Prior to making the decision to switch away from single use plastics, our partner operated on the same set of best practices as other education catering solutions. Single-use plastics were rife, spanning everything from disposable utensils, to drink containers, to wrappers for all kinds of fresh and packaged goods. With a full makeover due shortly, the team decided now was the time to strike – the call was made to move away from using plastics.

With the dining area and cafeteria placed on ice to allow the total overhaul to take place, the gather team began putting in the work to ensure we could continue to deliver a high-quality service experience without any hiccups while switching away from plastics. Doing so meant leveraging our suppliers to change out almost all non-consumable goods, meaning new contracts, with new requirements – all before the servery was due to reopen. 

Making the Switch

The gather team’s first hurdle was replacing all the normally disposable goods used in the dining hall. Cutlery and containers were all single use plastics for the sake of ease and sanitation, and drinks were often served in standard plastic bottles. To help give the dining hall a greener refit, we sourced Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified birchwood cutlery in both disposal and reusable forms. Plastic takeaway containers were swapped out for alternatives made from sugar cane pulp, with straws made from paper from ethically managed plantations.

Ingeo™, an industrially compostable material with the strength of plastic but the biodegradability of pulp, features heavily in gather‘s environmentally friendly redesign. Multiple disposable goods in the school’s dining areas were replaced with Ingeo alternatives, including sandwich wedges, hot cups, and hardened takeaway containers. This provides staff and students with sturdier solutions than just paper cups, while letting them rest easy in the knowledge they can be responsibly disposed of. Water for the cafeteria is sourced in recyclable Tetra Pak cartons, with all other drinks available to students served in glass, cans, or cardboard.

A Nip and a Tuck

A newfound focus on sustainability and reducing usage of plastics was only one aspect of this refresh – after all, food catering for schools also needs to deliver an engaging dining experience, and gather partners enjoy regular dining area refreshes. The gather dining area was redesigned with a whole new look designed to evoke the feeling of old-school ambience with a modern twist. Students got to enjoy a visual redesign aimed at brightening and modernising the dining area, and the catering itself included a greatly expanded menu with a wider variety of healthy options including fresh fruit, smoothies, salads, sushi, and other healthy grab-and-go options – all of which were well received by staff and students!

Keeping Clean

Taking steps to protect the sustainability of food catering for schools is vital for ensuring that these catering solutions can last long into the future, and gather by Cater Care is proud to lead from the front. This particular client was uniquely positioned and motivated to take the charge on becoming a plastic-free campus, and we’re proud to have been their partner of choice in this project. 

It’s vital for schools and universities to begin to make these changes while they have the option to do so, rather than having it suddenly forced upon them, and a flexible catering partner can go a long way to making that easier. We’re working hard to make the catering in the education space a greener, healthier one, and if you’re interested in joining that movement, then reach out to the gather by Cater Care team for a quick chat. 

To find out more, get in touch with David O’Brien to have a quick chat about how gather can provide your students and residents with a well-rounded and connecting mealtime experience.

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