Curry Leaf Cafe’s Co-founder, Euan Sey, lifts the tupperware lid on the challenge of reducing single-use plastics at the brand’s three sites in Brighton

Co-founder Euan lunches at the Brighton Lanes Cafe with his 18-month-old daughter Astrid

Co-founder Euan lunches at the Brighton Lanes Cafe with his 18-month-old daughter Astrid

If you open the door of your fridge, chances are you’ll find as much plastic in there as food. Not just the ‘good’ kind – the Tupperware containers that your mum gave you when you left home, or the recyclable bottles that your freshly squeezed orange juice comes in – but also the transparent single-use plastics that the supermarkets use to keep chicken fillets from going off and your avocados from spoiling before they can be spread on toasted sourdough and immortalised on Instagram. As you probably know by now, single-use plastics like these are killing the planet. And unless you shop exclusively in markets and sew your own clothes by hand, they’re almost impossible to avoid in everyday life.     

If you really want to feel like you’re single-handedly bringing on the End Of Days, however, try opening a restaurant. The amount of plastic that came through the doors of our Brighton Lanes Cafe during those early months was nothing short of staggering. Take a peek inside one of those large blue wheelie bins you see parked outside your local cafe and you’ll find it’s mostly plastic tubs, trays, polystyrene boxes and other unrecyclable packaging in there – a lot less of it is vegetable peel than you probably imagine.

The move towards less environmentally damaging practices is a slow but continual one for a business like ours. We’ve replaced our plastic straws with cardboard ones, switched to meat, fish, vegetable and rapeseed oil suppliers who deliver in reusable crates, metal cans or thermally insulating containers, and moved almost all our takeaway packaging over to biodegradable products. There’s a question mark over how well they break down in landfill, but for now they remain the best option available. We also started working with fellow Brighton brand, Life Water, at all three of our sites. They’re doing great work to reduce the amount of single-use PET plastic being used in the grab-and-go water bottles that clog up landfill (of which we sold so many from our Brighton Station kiosk); you may have seen their logo on Brighton’s answer to the Boris Bike.

“The recycled cardboard straws, compostable takeaway containers and biodegradable cornstarch cutlery we use are a step in the right direction, but the widespread use of disposable plastics behind the scenes in the restaurant industry is an equally big issue”

There’s still a lot more we could and should be doing as a company. But the good news is that it’s a lot more commercially viable to adopt environmentally friendly practices than it was when we launched Curry Leaf Cafe in 2014. Back then, compostable takeaway packaging cost nearly three times that of the standard stuff, for example. Now the premium is more like 25-50%.
Fellow business owners: if your conscience doesn’t tell you that’s a price worth paying, it probably won’t be long before pressure from consumers will – especially here in Brighton. To everyone else I say: keep asking questions, either in person or on social media. Sometimes that’s all it takes to nudge people in the right direction.  

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