British workers’ ‘lunch on the go’ habit generating 11 billion items of packaging waste annually

From sandwich boxes, to crisps and napkins, British workers’ ‘lunch on the go’ habit is generating 10.7 billion items of packaging waste annually – 276 items per person – according to new research from environmental charity Hubbub.

The research of over 1,200 UK full and part-time workers revealed they use an average of four packaging items for each lunch purchase, with 76% picking up a main item e.g. sandwich container, 70% a packet of snacks and 65% a napkin. With the majority (64%) saying they buy lunch on the go more now than they did five years ago – spending 13.6 billion annually – this is naturally leading to an increase in packaging waste, much of which isn’t recycled or recyclable. The rise in eating out is partly down to the fact life has got busier (26%) and also because of the UK’s evolving food culture, with 20% of workers saying there are more places to eat out now and 19saying eating out is more tempting these days. 

To help create a new culture of meal planning and reusable lunch packaging that reduces food and plastic waste, Hubbub, in collaboration with Norfolk and Suffolk Councils, have launched a new campaign, #FoodSavvy Lunch Club. It is encouraging people across the UK to get involved and rethink their own lunch habits by visiting to take a quiz and find tips on how to plan their lunch meals to save time, packaging and money. 

The #FoodSavvy Lunch Club was trialled in March 2019 in East Anglia with businesses Aviva, AXA, Environment Agency and BTchallenging a total of 50 employees to go for a month without using single use packaging at lunch time. Supported by Hubbub, participants were given a #FoodSavvy Savings Guide, which provided them with the golden rules for reducing packaging and food waste.   

The businesses followed a three-week meal plan packed with simple, healthy, sustainable meals and were challenged to make their own meals for the trial’s final week. Results were encouraging – of the employees taking part, 83% said the Lunch Club helped them reduce their single use plastics, with participants on average reducing their usage by 54%. Food waste was reduced by approximately 52% per participant and 67% said the trial had helped them to save money. Challenge participants and local eateries also took part in a pilot BYO Tupperware scheme, Take Away, Give Back where they received a small incentive for bringing their own packaging.   

Hubbub is also now inviting businesses and employees to take part by registering their interest via Cafes and local businesses can get in touch to join Take Away, Give Back and receive artwork and resources to support customers to bring their own containers. 

Trewin Restorick, CEO of Hubbub said: “’Lunch-on-the-go’ items create huge levels of waste and unfortunately much of this isn’t recyclable as it’s made from mixed materials or isn’t recycled due to contamination from food residue. By planning lunches in advance and using up items in your fridge you can massively reduce the amount of packaging you use while saving money by cutting down on food waste – in the UK we could save £58 million a day just by making our own lunches.iv If you do buy lunch on the go, don’t be shy – take along your own container to your favourite lunch spot. We’d encourage anyone wanting to get involved in the campaign to visit the Food Savvy website and we’d love more businesses to take on the challenge too – just register your interest on the Hubbub website.” 

The #FoodSavvy Lunch Club is part of a wider #FoodSavvy initiative which is designed to tackle food waste and launched in September 2018. For more information on the #FoodSavvy campaign, visit the #FoodSavvy website.