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Bye, bye waste series: zero waste champions @ FieldFareFoods the BYO tub initiative

Bye, bye waste series: zero waste champions @ FieldFareFoods the BYO tub initiative

I’ve already written about some great ways to reduce food waste – one of those tips are to buy frozen veg instead of fresh as that way you have to worry less about the expiry dates. Something that annoys me about buying frozen food is that most of the time they are packaged in non-recyclable bags – what a drag, one step forward, two steps back.

Thankfully field fare are doing something about it with their BYO tub initiative. I’ve had the absolute pleasure to chat with Karen Deans, the managing director at field fare. What absolute zero waste champions field fare are! Commence the interview in 3, 2, 1 …

What inspired field fare to start the BYO Tub initiative? Why is it so important to those looking to reduce their waste?

We introduced the concept of selling loose serve fruit and veg, baked and fish goods over 40 years. The idea was simply to reduce packaging to a recyclable, transparent bag and allow our customers to take only what they needed. Back then the bag was more about keeping our Grade A produce visible and letting the quality do the talking, and the scoop-and-serve was about offering the convenience and economy of being able to take precise amounts.

Freezing food, however, already has innate eco-credentials. Nature’s own preservative, it reduces food waste and is also cheaper to transport, requiring minimal packaging. It offers seasonality year-round, reducing air miles, and being able to take as little as is needed dramatically cuts down on perished produce.

We came armed with an enviable environmental legacy, then, and as sustainability has grown as a concern, we began to recognise the further value of our environmental format and our responsibility to expand on it. Recyclable bags became biodegradable (and all our ready meal packaging sourced for sustainability) and the natural next step was to start encouraging our 400+ stockists to offer their customers the option of bringing their own reusable containers to fill with our loose products, which total 80 lines, including fish products, individual and medleys of fruit and veg and baked goods by specialist patisseries.

Consumers are increasingly looking for help to reduce plastic waste and this is a simple way for us all – producers, retailers and customers – to get together and make a difference. It is all these small measures that add up, but that also contribute to changing mindsets and wider behaviours.

How exactly does the BYO initiative work and where is it available to customers?

It’s simple. For those retailers without specialist labeling scales, the customer brings in their reusable container and tells the retailer what they will be filling it with. The empty weight is noted and then deducted from the final filled weight.

The BYO initiative is available in limited field fare stockists, which include farm shops, butchers and garden centers across the UK and can be located through a postcode activated search on our website.

Numbers of those offering the eco-option are increasing by the month, but if your local stockist doesn’t offer it, we would actively encourage consumers to let them know that you would be interested and that there is demand. We are all in this together!

What difference have you seen this initiative make?

For our stockists, it has given them a reason to meaningfully connect with their customers. Firstly in the united mission of reducing packaging and waste, but also more directly in in-store messaging, emailers and social media posts.

It’s given them positive news that establishes them not only as a responsible retailer and a caring part of their community, but also marks their shop out as trailblazing, as a destination, as offering something that no others are. As many are farm shops, it also underlines their connection with the environment; and from the reports of participating retailers, the response from their customers has been equally positive, particularly through social media.

What has been the most difficult part of launching this initiative?

Persuading our stockists that there is a demand continues to be an issue in some cases, although the more awareness builds of the plastic crisis and the more Armageddon warnings we read, the more persuaded they are becoming. The time will come – and sooner than we think, I hope – when using single-use plastic will be as socially unacceptable as smoking. But for the time being, we still need shoppers to ask for the BYO facility and prove that there is local demand.

Logistically, specialist labeling scales are very expensive and many retailers without them think that it will be too inconvenient and complicated for their staff and their customers. But for those working the double weighing system, it works very simply and smoothly.

Sustainability does take a little more effort than the old throw-away society and we will all have to adapt, just as we have with our domestic recycling and our plastic carrier bag use. Pretty quickly it all becomes second nature.

Do you have any plans expanding elsewhere in the UK? I think I speak for many, but we’d love something like this made available in the North East!

On principle, we will only ever stock independent retailers, but field fare freezers can be found in over 400 farm shops, delis, butchers and garden centres from as far up as Dornoch in Scotland, right down to St Ives in Cornwall, including Northern Ireland and Jersey, so I hope much of the UK has access to some of our loose serve lines and over 60 premium ready meals and desserts. But we are always looking to bring our frozen foods to new stockists and new areas, so if you know of an independent that might be a fit for hosting us, tweet or fb us their name and we’ll talk to them. As I say – we’re all in this together.

What is your biggest advice for people looking to reduce waste in their lives?

Being fully informed is number one. Who knew that tea bags contain plastic, for example? Or that cling film is made of crude oil? Beyond that, it’s the simple, do-able measures that stick and start to shift gears towards bigger changes.

Start with replacing bottled soap with a bar and buying a bamboo toothbrush; by carrying a re-useable shopping bag and coffee cup at all times and ordering veg boxes, rather than over-packaged, over-travelled supermarket produce; reduce your meat consumption (and buy loose frozen foods in reused ice cream tubs) … and before you know it, you’ll be cleaning your loo with vinegar, pressuring your local authorities to step up their recycling offer and installing solar panels!

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