A letter to… Planet Organic

When Planet Organic opened its doors in 1995 it started with founder Renee Elliott’s dream to offer the best and widest range of organic foods available, in line with her mission to promote health in the community and bring a sense of discovery and adventure to food shopping. There is no denying that they have achieved this, planet Organic is the UK’s largest fully certified organic supermarket and the supermarket of choice for organic eating foodies across the UK.

Recently though we have started to wonder if Planet Organic is fully committed to practicing what it preaches. After a quick peruse of their blog we came across articles such as this ‘Go Zero Waste, Our Top Ten Tips’ which offers their opinion on why we should care about packaging and advice for going waste free.

They make some great points, saying in tip number 8 ‘If you can’t avoid it, choose clever packaging – e.g. Planet Organic sells toilet roll in compostable packaging, the packaging can go into your food waste bin’.

planet organic

So why is that whenever we go into our local Planet Organic (Tottenham Court Road in London) for a Saturday morning treat of a soy flat white and one of their delicious sweet treats do we get served said flat white in a take-out cup? Even though I am sitting in… And to add to this a non- compostable… With so many eco- friendly, compostable take-out cups out there we couldn’t help but wonder why the UK’s largest certified organic supermarket is not using one of them?

Hammersmith coffee shop Amoret have got this nailed by the way- we're hoping to interview them soon on why they decided to go compostable - stay tuned.

So we wrote to planet organic to find out what they had to say about this. Read our letter and their response below.

FLOR AND CESTA (01/04/2017)

Dear Planet Organic,

As a loyal customer and all round massive fan of Planet Organic and its products I am writing to you to discuss compostable coffee cups, take-out food cartons and any other eco-friendly receptacle that may be used by an environmentally discerning supermarket such as yourselves.

A habit of mine of a Saturday morning is to take a trip to your Tottenham Court Road branch and treat myself to a soy flat white and one of your sweet treats before stocking up on organic produce from your store. Something that I have noticed over the last few months which is beginning to concern me is that my coffee is being served to me in non- compostable take out cup, even though I am sitting in your café. What’s more my sweet treat is usually handed to me in a paper bag rather than on a plate.

After reading articles on your blog such as ‘Go Zero Waste, Our Top Ten Tips’ which makes some great points, such as tip number 8 ‘If you can’t avoid it, choose clever packaging – e.g. Planet Organic sells toilet roll in compostable packaging, the packaging can go into your food waste bin’, it has left me asking the question, do Planet Organic practice what they preach?

I’d love to hear from you on this. Looking forward to your response.

Kind regards,

Hanna Pumfrey, author of sustainable lifestyle platform Flor &  Cesta.

PLANET ORGANIC RESPONSE (05/04/2017)

Dear Hanna

Thank you so much for your email regarding our Store in Tottenham Court Walk.  You are correct that all our stores should have eat in containers available for food and hot drinks. We do have them in other stores but have run out in this store.   I have spoken to the team at the store and ensured that they have placed an order for these and will make them available to our customers.

Planet Organic is committed to minimizing the impact of its activities on the environment and sells Fair Trade, Organic and natural food which by its very nature is environmentally friendly.  We sell seasonal produce thereby minimizing transport, the impact on the environment and in turn our carbon footprint.  We are constantly reviewing our environmental management:

  • use 100% compostable and biodegradable food packaging; made of sugar cane pulp, on our food take away counter
  • sell carrier bags that are made from paper
  •  provide all staff members with aprons made from 100% organic cotton
  • use recycled papeR
  • minimize the packaging sent to our customers when making deliveries by reusing boxes and packing materials
  • buy electricity from a renewable energy supplier
  • where practical we purchase recycled, second hand, refurbished or reconditioned materials
  • recycle where possible
  • source and promote a product range to minimize the environmental impact of both production and distribution
  • actively promote the benefits of eating organic food and the positive effect organic farming has on the environment
  • have ethical insurance
  • look at new ways to reduce energy consumption
  • minimize waste as much as possible
  • work with suppliers who actively promote and believe in being environmentally friendly
  • where the facility is available, food nearing the end of its shelf life is collected by a London charity to provide food for the homeless and needy.

All the food waste from our main kitchen is collected and composted. We will be extending this to all the food waste from all 7 stores during the remainder ofthe year and establishing our own Planet Organic compost centre where we intend to bag the organic compost and offer free or at a nominal charge to our customers to use on their gardens

We are constantly reviewing our policies and way of working and we love new initiatives. Every time we source a new product, change a policy or make a decision we consider the impact on the environment.

After all the above we know we aren’t perfect and there’s more to be done! First and foremost we are a retailer and have to provide sufficient customers with products that they wish to buy or we will not be in business.

I hope I have managed to reassure you that we are making an effort and thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.

Kind regards

Caroline Ottoy

Food Service Director

Convinced? We weren't so we wrote back:

FLOR AND CESTA (18/04/2017)

Hi Caroline,

Many thanks for coming back to me and for the extensive list of how Planet Organic works to minimise it's impact on the environment, my apologies for the slow reply.

Great to hear that as a rule you offer eat in containers for food and drinks. I popped into the Tottenham Court Road store yesterday with a pal and we ordered a juice and coffee to sit in. You will see by the image attached that we were once again served our beverages in takeaway containers. From what I could gather these may have been recyclable but definitely not compostable or biodegradable, although I did note that the food containers looked to be compostable, which is great.

Considering the following two points from your list:

  • use 100% compostable and biodegradable food packaging; made of sugar cane pulp, on our food take away counter
  • minimize waste as much as possible

I have two follow up questions:

1. Have the team once again run out of eat in containers for food and drink or is there no intention of making these available?

2. Given that the store appears to prefer to use takeaway containers, regardless of whether customers are sitting in or not, do you have any plans to start using compostable containers for your drinks as well as food? 

There are many businesses around the UK that are now making use of biodegradable coffee cups and lids, many of them much smaller outlets than Planet Organic. 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and potential plans for introducing biodegradable hot drinks cups into Planet Organic Stores. 

Many thanks, Hanna

PLANET ORGANIC RESPONSE (20/04/2017)

Dear Hanna

Thank you for your reply.

I have once again spoken to the team who assure me they have eat in containers and coffee mugs available. Can I just check that you asked for an eat in container? 

Kind regards, Caroline

FLOR AND CESTA (20/04/2017)

Hi Caroline,
Thanks for coming back to me. Yes, I always state that I am going to be sitting in. I don't however specifically ask for an eat in coffee mug, however I have never seen any other customer using one during my visits to the cafe.

Thanks, Hanna

PLANET ORGANIC RESPONSE (21/042017)

Dear Hanna

Thank you for your reply.  Eat in containers and mugs are available on the counter so please do ask for them on your next visit and the store should make them available to you.  Regarding offering to all our eat in customers, we have tried this in the past but many of our customers still prefer the compostable containers. 

The team at the store have all be re briefed and we will actively try to promote the eat in containers to our customers.

Thank you for your time. Caroline

Anyone else get the feeling Planet Organic are done talking with us? ;) We're really pleased we were able to engage Planet Organic in a dialogue and that they taking waste reduction seriously with the use of compostable food containers. The fact still remains though that the company, or at least the Tottenham Court Road branch, continue to promote the use of non-biodegradable drinks receptacles. If their customers prefer to use take- out containers then we understand they want to provide this option but as the countries largest certified organic supermarket that cites waste reduction as one of its main aims we feel there is much more they could be doing to provide a sustainable take out option.

What are you thoughts? Have any of you visited other Planet Organic branches? What is your experience? We'd love to hear from you.