We’re with Hugh on reducing waste

Like them or loathe them, celebrity chefs are now responsible for some real and positive changes by means of the campaigns they put their weight behind. Having already put out a series highlighting the nation’s appalling food waste (nearly a third of all food produced was being thrown away), Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s latest campaign, aired last week was aimed at the coffee companies who continue to sell us our favourite beverage in non-recycled and non-recyclable cups (at a rate of almost 5000 a minute…)

Our whole business model is designed to reduce food waste both at the producer end (by pre-ordering food they only pick what is needed for our weekly boxes) and at the consumer end (by providing you with realistic portions and lots of hints and tips to make the most of your boxes) but are we doing enough to reduce the packaging side of things?

When I set up Box Local I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I knew I had a difficult task of delivering perishable goods in a sustainable way that still meant they arrived in great condition. A lot of the onus does fall on you, the customer to return packaging and quite frankly I wasn’t sure how good you would be at it! So we opted for a regular, sealable cardboard box, that would be reusable for a certain time and then recyclable. It was important that it was sturdy but easily collapsible so it wasn’t taking up room in your porch or garage while you waited for it to be collected, and that it was made from recycled board. Despite its recycled credentials and cardboardiness (as we learnt from Hugh and his coffee cups, cardboard is not always the most ecological option), if these boxes got thrown away each week, this solution would still waste more energy than a disposable shopping bag. I was pleasantly surprised how many of you go out of your way to recycle your Box Local boxes. Almost all my regular customers religiously leave out their boxes for us to collect on delivery day, meaning I have used almost 25% less cardboard packaging than my initial estimate since Box Local started.

Our promise to have refrigerated items on the doorstep throughout the day meant another solution was needed for these items, and we looked at various options for keeping the food at its best. The wool insulation that we use from a company called Woolcool, is made from an otherwise wasted material – wool which would not make the grade for clothing. In tests it insulates better than polystyrene (which is what the coffee companies moved away from in favour of their cardboard cups….) and its ability to allow condensation to move away from the cooled food means your product arrives in the best condition. Our cool blocks come from America, which is not ideal, but until we are big enough to justify a machine to make our own, we felt it was better to import a dry product (the water is added here before freezing) than to ship packets of water around the place. We are constantly on the look out for ways to improve this and will try to do this over the coming year. Again you have been fantastic at returning these to us in great condition and we have used around 35% less of these than our projections (oh she of little faith…)

We wrap as few of our fruit and veg as possible, only using punnets and bags where necessary to avoid spoiling, and even these are reused here if you return them.

The brown recycled kraft paper we wrap our Woolcool insulation in is one of the only things we struggle to reuse, as it tends to tear during the recovery process. I have used the paper as a liner for my food bin, an impromptu wasp deterrent, and even wrapped kids presents with it (amazing how good it looks smothered in stickers and glitter!) but even I can’t use all of it and it ends up being recycled, so we challenge you to find new and interesting ways to reuse yours while we look for ways of protecting your meat and cheese in a more sustainable way.

So while we have done lots to enable a low waste delivery, it really is you that makes us proud to be able to offer it to you. Well done you!

If you want to know more about how to reduce waste and live in a more sustainable way, have a look at Sustainable St Albans and the Waste Not websites