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Royal Botanical Garden

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Planting the seeds of change at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a leading centre of excellence in plant research, horticulture, education and habitat preservation as well as a sustainable meeting and events venue, set in more than 70 acres of beautifully kept grounds.

It’s visited by a million people every year and Sodexo is responsible for the café, coffee bar, staff canteen and for running prestigious catered events hosted at the gardens.  

Sodexo has been working with the Royal Botanic Gardens since 2007. Unsurprisingly, for an organisation dedicated to ecology and conservation, sustainability is high on the menu across all its catering. 

“We have always had a good record on sustainability,” says Catering Services Director Paul Mitchell. “Whereas the concept might be quite new for a lot of organisations, the RBG has a global reputation and seeks to be a leader in adopting sustainable practices. And, at Sodexo we have always had a good record, but we are still always looking for ways to improve."

In 2016, Sodexo began measuring the levels of waste across the gardens. This was a first step to understanding the scope for improvements which could be made, says Paul. 

“There is no right or wrong way to go about improving sustainability. Our philosophy has always been to identify how we can ‘move it along’ by identifying the best approaches. Sometimes there is no quick fix. Food waste was an issue as it couldn’t be composted on site, due to the gardens organic principles and need for strict rules about what goes back into the soil."

The garden now employs a dedicated team member, working with Sodexo on new approaches to dealing with food waste. Our thinking has to be fully joined up.

There are, Paul adds, many ‘urban myths’ about plastic single-use cups.  Paper cups might seem better but are usually coated with plastic or wax and therefore can’t be recycled. These options were rejected in favour of a special Botanic Gardens branded reusable plastic cup. “We have sold thousands of these now,” says Paul. “Our bright green Edinburgh Botanic Garden green cups are being used all over the city.”

All plastic water bottles have been removed from the staff canteen and Sodexo worked with compostable packaging pioneers Vegware to replace packaging in the cafes. Plastic water bottles will soon be removed entirely as water fountains become installed across the gardens.

“Our regular visitors are often evangelical about removing plastic,” says Paul.

We don’t sell any drinks in plastic bottles now. All the PET is gone and replaced by aluminium and glass.

Thinking green at the Royal Botanical Gardens

Food miles become metres

A new dedicated 3/4-acre Sodexo vegetable patch now supplies all the restaurants and cafes. Sodexo worked with the RBG to establish the garden and pays for the dedicated gardener. The produce is all certified Organic by The Soil Association. 

Carbon-Neutral bites

  • Two electric vehicles used by Sodexo on site.
  • Carbon neutrality is written into the contract, and Paul and his team are looking for practical ways to cut their carbon footprint. 
  • Sodexo is working with Edinburgh University on a menu measurement tool which analyses the carbon footprint of each menu item. 

At the Botanics' cafés and restaurants...

  • Cans, glass and draught drinks are alternatives to plastic cups and bottles.
  • Water fountains are being installed across the gardens.
  • Visitors are encouraged to use reusable takeaway cups and water bottles.
  • Packaging for all takeaway food, including sandwiches and salads, is compostable and fully recyclable.
  • Ceramic and glass crockery is used in restaurants and cafés.

As of 1 February 2020, products containing unrecyclable polystyrene and single use plastic bags have been removed from our supply chain. Click here to find out more about the steps we’ve already taken to reduce the plastics we use.

February 04, 2020

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