Safe and Sustainable: COVID safety protocols in the workplace break room don’t have to trump sustainability

Safe and Sustainable: COVID safety protocols in the workplace break room don’t have to trump sustainability
By Emily Jed - Dec 10, 2020
Before COVID-19, sustainable, environmentally friendly products and packaging were growing in demand, especially in office coffee service (OCS). Companies made formal commitments to source bulk products instead of single-serve, seeking OCS supplies made with recycled, recyclable, and compostable materials to be responsible stewards of the environment.

But as the need to avoid the spread of the coronavirus has taken top priority, operators have had to shift to single-serve and plastic-wrapped OCS supplies to promote safety in the break room. Several suppliers offer solutions that address safety concerns without compromising sustainability.

Ralph Bianculli, founder and CEO of Emerald Brand and Paradigm Group, based in Huntington, N.Y., said his company has increasingly seen “sustainability” translate beyond the impact of single-use disposables on the environment to encompass their impact on personal health and wellness. Its product line includes cutlery, hot and cold cups, take-out containers, plates, napkins, and packaging made from tree-free and petroleum-free renewable and compostable materials like sugarcane, wheat, clay, and corn.

Health tie-in

“Takeout plastic use is up 200% and masks and gloves are littered everywhere. There’s nothing safe about that,” Bianculli remarked. “’Health and wellness equals sustainability’ is our new tagline; that includes cleanliness and health. Consumers are not backtracking on their sustainability commitments because of COVID, and they are also much more aware of products that are made in the USA."

Addressing burgeoning demand for single-use utensils, with both health and the environment in mind, Emerald Brand recently launched compostable, individually wrapped Plant to Plastic® cutlery made in the U.S. It’s made with polylactic acid (PLA), a natural plant-based bioplastic derived from renewable resources like cornstarch and sugar cane and is renewable and biodegradable.

Also new are Emerald's American-made, Tree-Free™ toilet paper, napkins and paper towels made from agricultural fiber and free of fluorocarbon, BPA, and elemental chlorine.

Made in the U.S.

“A growing trend that ties into sustainability is that consumers want made in the U.S. for traceability of the supply chain and to know what chemicals are in products, especially since COVID,” he said. “On the foodservice side, there’s a big push for safety, health and wellness in the products and packaging used with food along with the environmental impact.”

Five years ago, Emerald Brand launched an aggressive campaign to make more of its products in the U.S. “Only 15% or so of our portfolio was made in the U.S.,” Bianculli noted. “We accelerated the push in 2018 and 2019. Now, close to 70% of our portfolio is made in the U.S. and we’re continuing to close the gap further.”

Emerald Brand can provide operators with quarterly environmental impact statements to quantify the results of their clients’ sustainable purchases and help them educate employees about their efforts. Detailed in the statements are the number of trees and virgin fiber saved, landfill waste diverted, and plastic materials avoided.

Seeing green

Alliant Coffee Solutions/Wolfgang Puck Coffee, based in Edmonds, Wash., offers coffee and tea under the Wolfgang Puck, Reunion Coffee Roasters, Donut Shop Blend, and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf brands with a focus on sustainable solutions to help operators encourage more businesses to start making small changes in the break room.

Alliant’s soft pod packaging film, for instance, is completely compostable, and combined with a nitrogen flushed packing process that keeps each pod free of oxygen, preserving the quality of the freshly ground coffee. The coffee pods have long been made from compostable material, creating a complete zero-waste product.

Alliant also offers individually wrapped coffee cups, lids and condiments in packaging that is produced with recycled, bio-enhanced resins that are degradable in active landfills.

“These innovative, individually wrapped products enable OCS operators to continue to grow their market footprint during these difficult times, while still building a safe coffee experience and exceeding employee expectations by showing your employees you care about the environment,” said Ryan Stoulil, general manager at Alliant Coffee Solutions/Wolfgang Puck Coffee.  “We make a strong effort to partner with eco-conscious affiliates like Rainforest Alliance who are committed to preserving the rainforest by inspiring responsible business, supporting sustainable livelihoods, and restoring balance to our planet.”

Safety First

Holiday House Distributing, headquartered in Land O' Lakes, Fla., provides parts and supplies for the OCS and vending market, including cup, lid and stirrer dispensers that sanitarily deliver single items. It has found increased demand as workplaces reopen with a focus on minimizing touchpoints to reduce the risk of the virus’s spread.  

Holiday House also offers antimicrobial films to apply to equipment to replace rubber gloves and finger covers that many locations initially supplied employees to sanitarily prepare their hot beverages.

Additionally, Holiday House recently added a retrofit Tomlinson faucet handle for water coolers to enable push-cup dispensing — this product is so popular that it’s backordered. It also launched its own push-paddle for tea dispensers and satellite coffee urns to eliminate the need to touch the equipment.  

Bamboo condiment, cup and airpot racks and recyclable water filters are among Holiday House’s other popular sustainable offerings.

“We’re seeing more concern about sanitation than being green right now,” said Holiday House vice president of sales and marketing‎ Barbara Russell. “There’s less waste with the cup and lid dispensers and with the antimicrobial film replacing rubber gloves which supports sustainability, but the focus we’re seeing is still really driven by safety.”

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