Chefs call on London Mayor to ban polystyrene food packaging

By Hannah Thompson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Chefs call on London Mayor to ban polystyrene food packaging

Related tags: Recycling, London

A group of chefs and food writers including Ed Baines, Mark Hix and Theo Randall have called on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to ban polystyrene packaging - "the scourge of Soho" - in the capital city.

Baines, founder and head chef of Soho seafood restaurant Randall & Aubin, is spearheading the campaign with a letter to Khan, focusing on the difficult-to-recycle polystyrene packaging most often used for fish, seafood, and meat products.

Baines called the products “the scourge of Soho” in his letter, which was also co-signed by chef and TV presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and editor of Waitrose Kitchen magazine William Sitwell.

Khan received the letter after his mayoral electoral campaign stated his commitment to reducing London’s waste with a target of 65% recycled waste by 2020. The message asks that Khan follow through on the promises, and “take us one step closer to a zero waste, clean, green London”.

The group claimed that polystyrene significantly contributes to what it called London’s “abysmal recycling performance”, and is also a key culprit in filling up the capital’s restaurants and streets – as well as the nation’s landfill sites ‒ thanks to the waste it generates.

The campaign argued that there are alternatives that can be used instead, such as solid board packaging and cardboard, which create less waste and are easier to recycle.

Polystyrene – which, the campaign highlighted, never degrades in nature ‒ has also been linked to health issues, including allegations that chemicals such as styrene can cause cancer, the group said.

Legislation surrounding packaging already exists in the USA, with San Francisco choosing to ban most polystyrene products from circulation in food packaging in June this year, including meat and fish trays, and coffee cups used in restaurants and cafes.

Commenting on the campaign, Ed Baines said: “As a chef committed to sustainability and food provenance, I am very concerned about the use of harmful packaging materials such as polystyrene throughout London. Not only are the mountains of polystyrene waste environmentally damaging and unsightly, it has also been shown to be harmful to health. We should be doing everything we can to get Londoners to use safer, environmentally friendly, recyclable packaging.”


The letter in full

Dear Sadiq,

Soho is one of the liveliest and most exciting places in London and has been home to my restaurant for the last 18 years. Over this time, the area has got busier and more congested as new restaurants, bars and nightclubs open. Great as this is, there are some serious issues that Soho and its inhabitants have to contend with, and immense amounts of waste is one of them. 

I see more waste in the streets of Soho than ever before.  This waste is filling up the small amounts of space we have at the restaurants and spilling out on to the streets, every day.  Much of this waste consists of excessive packaging that is not bio-degradable or recyclable. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is polystyrene, which is delivered in its truck loads, delivering produce that could just as easily be packaged using more environmentally friendly materials.    

In my restaurant alone, mountains of polystyrene containers are delivered every year! Following delivery, these containers are emptied and then broken up and left to be collected at a cost. Polystyrene containers can only be used once. 

The problems that come with polystyrene are not exclusive to London. It is estimated that globally around 80 billion polystyrene coffee cups are thrown away each year.

Polystyrene makes up a large amount of the debris in our oceans, seas and rivers contaminating fish stocks. Polystyrene acts like a sponge so picks up pollutants in the ocean which can then be ingested by fish. These are the same fish which end up on your plate!

Therefore, with my fellow signatories, I feel an obligation to take the lead from more progressive cities of the world such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC and call on you as the Mayor of London to introduce a ban on this unsightly and environmentally damaging method of packaging. 

In London, recycling rates are lower than the UK average. As an industry and as residents of bustling Soho, we should be doing everything we can to encourage London’s bars, hotels, restaurants and shops to re-use and recycle more.

This white foamy material might seem harmless, but it’s not – it is the scourge of Soho! This move could really make a difference so the signatories of this letter would encourage you and the rest of London to help support this cause, and take us one step closer to a zero waste, clean, green London!

Yours sincerely,

Ed Baines


Co-signed by:

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Mark Hix

Theo Randall

William Sitwell

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