Zero Waste

Virginie Jalasja, CSR Director at Elior Entreprises: “Beyond our policy of gradually phasing out single-use plastics, we are targeting zero waste”

Elior has joined forces with Uzaje to launch a pilot project offering guests from a shared company restaurant a new system of reusable containers, an innovative and responsible alternative to disposable tableware.

After a trial period lasting a few months, we wanted to find out more about the project. Meeting with Virginie Jalasja, CSR Director at Elior Entreprises in France, who is in charge of setting up the system.

What are Elior's commitments in France with regard to reducing single-use plastics? 

Today, our restaurants consume a great deal of packaging, the amount of which continues to grow in line with the increase in take-out and salad offerings. For this reason, we decided to prioritize this issue. Our aim was to provide a simple and pragmatic solution that also meets the expectations of guests looking to find in their restaurant areas the means to take concrete action in favor of environmental protection, as they do already at home. Today, disposable plastic is a thorny issue; we all want to limit its use. 

We are aware that these changes must go hand in hand, and should be implemented progressively. The regulations in force indicate the progressive path we need to take.  Where disposable plastic is still used, we ensure that it is properly sorted, in its correct recycling channel. Beyond our policy of gradually phasing out single-use plastics, we are targeting zero waste by first and foremost promoting reuse as much as possible. We must rid ourselves of this “throwaway” society and find solutions, collectively.

What measures have already been taken in company restaurants?

As a responsible caterer, Elior has worked proactively on this issue, upstream of the regulatory process, by eliminating non-recyclable plastics more than a year ago. Straws in particular have completely disappeared from our restaurants, and we have learned to live without them. In addition, at the end of 2020, we developed a catalog of disposable tableware, made from bio-based materials for which we have ensured recyclability. This catalog will obviously evolve in step with the pace of innovations. A second version was released earlier this year.

To take its "zero waste" strategy further, Elior recently joined forces with Uzaje. Can you tell us more about this partnership?

We were looking for deposit or reuse solutions that we could integrate into our operating methods. While Uzaje specializes in outsourced washing solutions, which we didn't necessarily need, it is also an expert in container-reuse solutions. We found a common interest in the choice of our reusable containers and therefore decided to ask them to accompany us in the integration of a reuse solution "By Elior".

CSR is a triptych between environmental, societal and economic issues. And it is at the intersection of these three issues that we can really talk about durable solutions.

Virginie Jalasja, CSR Director at Elior Entreprises

What are the roles of each player?

Uzaje’s role concerns the operational and technical modalities, and Arc France supplies the containers chosen from the Arcoroc tableware range. We manage the catering service and implement the container-reuse cycle. 

This is fairly representative of what CSR entails, that is to say bringing individuals with specific know-how together around the table to work on a common project. In general, CSR issues incite stakeholders to discuss among themselves and find solutions that have a positive impact on each other's activities. CSR is a triptych between environmental, societal and economic issues. And it is at the intersection of these three issues that we can really talk about durable solutions.

The system is in trial phase, what sort of feedback have you had?

Our guests are really satisfied because the system is very simple and they are already aware of these responsible initiatives. They also appreciate the fact that they are really involved in the process. We have chosen to operate on trust; we know our guests; they are loyal so no deposit-return system is necessary. The notion of container-reuse implies positive values, gives meaning to our actions and, at a time when environmental issues are uppermost in everybody’s minds, our customers wanted to operate above all on trust. Together, we encourage our guests to return their containers once finished, and at the same time, have developed a container traceability system as a safety net if required.  

Other clients who are interested in the project and how it functions are already asking us to help implement the solution!

Everyone is now looking for an alternative to disposable materials.

Virginie Jalasja, CSR Director at Elior Entreprises

You said that other clients have asked you to set up this solution; are any such implementations already planned?  

There is certainly a strong demand in all sectors. In the pharmaceutical sector, insurance, optics, all sectors are concerned. Today, everyone is now seeking an alternative to the disposable. Looking ahead, the idea is to be able to deploy the trial system with an improved and sustainable format at other sites.

Regarding the containers, what materials were selected? 

The containers are the result of genuine French innovations. They are made of glass that is used for microwaveable properties that pose no health risk, and which is much lighter and more resistant. Container covers are still in plastic because there are no other alternatives at the moment. The whole container unit meets particularly demanding specifications in terms of practicality, cooking, health and the environment.

This is the circular economy; we have to loop the loop so that the material is regenerated and thus avoids the depletion of resources.

Virginie Jalasja, CSR Director at Elior Entreprises

Could you tell us more about the life cycle of this container? 

We are responsible for our waste which is the whole point of reusing containers. Because the containers are washed, they can be used indefinitely as long as they are not damaged or broken. 

Regarding our other recyclable containers, Elior is implementing initiatives with key partners to monitor products after use. For recyclable products and single-use packaging in particular, we have studied the channels so that the material can be reused in another product, in the same way as for bio-waste for which we must find solutions so as to recover it as best as possible. The idea is that they end up in the correct trash can. This is where sorting gestures really make sense; products must be efficiently sorted so that they can be correctly recycled afterwards. It’s a real cycle. This is the circular economy; we have to loop the loop so that the material is regenerated and thus avoids the depletion of resources.

To conclude, what are your goals for the future? 

The trial period has just ended and the results are very satisfactory. The goal is that by the end of the first quarter of 2021 there will be several sites starting to employ this container-reuse system. For the moment, we will receive and analyze feedback on the trial period, study the volume of non-returned containers, communicate so as to raise awareness among our guests to give meaning to the implementation of this new system, make them want to participate and get involved collectively.


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