A conservation charity has shared its 'successes and frustrations' at trying to reduce plastic use and increase recyclables in cafes and restaurants.
Wild Planet Trust, which runs Paignton and Newquay Zoos and Torquay's Living Coasts 'coastal zoo', says sales of water have fallen since they stopped selling single-use plastic bottles.
They've openly discussed their packaging problems to encourage others to follow suit - revealing some biodegradable packaging ends up in landfill as it can only degrade in a particular environment.
Group Catering Manager Jennifer Proctor, who's been to other zoos to compare notes, said: "At Living Coasts, the awareness of the marine plastic problem is high, partly because of a really powerful exhibit there with artworks made from plastics found on local beaches.
"Guests see this and then go into the shop and point out that we’re selling plastic items – but we’ve tried and failed to find alternatives to so many products!
“We get feedback from guests regarding what they think are mixed messages – they think we use plastic cups, straws and other items in the cafe.
"In fact, none of our packaging is plastic, it’s all PLA, a compostable bioplastic derived from plant sugars - but it looks like plastic! This is best thrown into our recycling bins.
“Originally we planned to swap plastic water bottles for Tetrapak, but this cannot be recycled in our area. We’ve now swapped to aluminium cans - but our sales of water are now significantly lower than when we offered plastic bottles.
"Packaging labelled biodegradable can sometimes only degrade in a particular environment, so it often ends up going to landfill.”
The team has notched up some notable achievements, eliminating the sale of plastic drinks bottles at all three zoos, trialling the removal of sauce sachets and eliminating all single-use plastic in disposable packaging.
Ms Proctor added: "A lot of what people do is more about customer perception and is not necessarily a better green solution.”
Environmental Officer for all three zoos Pete Morgan (pictured) said: “The root cause globally of these problems is our relatively recent move to a disposable culture.
"The best solution would be to stop using disposable cups, packaging and cutlery, the less bad solution is to try and use products made from materials that can be recycled, composted or reused in some way.
"This then throws up some tricky dilemmas - do you go for a low carbon product that won’t recycle or compost or do you go for a high carbon product that can be recycled?
“Sadly, our efforts show how little can genuinely be recycled right now, but we know that moving to the right products and reducing what we use can really help.
"We need to be sensible and balanced, it’s not a matter of “all plastic is bad” – some plastic is absolutely essential. It’s about what we use plastic for, how we manage it after we’re done with it and whether it can be used again. Essentially, it’s a minefield!!
The 'Great Griller' take-away kiosk in the grounds of Paignton Zoo uses 12,000 burger boxes, 7,000 coffee cups, 7,000 coffee lids and 14,000 drinks cans or cartons in a Summer
Mr Morgan added: "There is a lack of good recycling facilities in the country and no joined up legislation to ensure that councils are working together on the same types of material.
"Having said that, we’ve come a long way in recent years, many things have changed for the better and people, organisations and government see the need for more change.
"There’s lots more to do – and if we all get together, we can do it!”