The Butcher and the Chef

Imagine your typical busy butcher’s shop. Beautiful hanging salamis, display cases full of butterflied chickens - and customers leaving with around 100 plastic bags an hour. Every hour, every day. While she loved her business, the environmental impact really began to bug The Butcher & The Chef’s Kristy Barbara. “I don’t accept plastic bags myself when I go shopping! I’m the person who goes out there and says ‘Really? you’re going to put that in a plastic bag?’”

So she took the obvious step of replacing plastic with paper, eliminating over 200,000 plastic bags a year in a single step. That might have been enough for many people, but not Kristy. A butcher’s business is full of environmental challenges and the bags were just a starting point.


“We sell about 80 kg of sliced ham a week - and that’s in 100g increments, and it’s one sheet per slice. Thats a lot of plastic! It was ridiculous, you used to have all these sheets of plastic and then this plastic bag. So eliminating the plastic sheets was a natural goal.” It sounds easy, but sourcing unbleached paper that she could use took her all the way to Norway. “Eventually I’d like to try to work with a local company like Visy and use a recycled paper. We’re getting there, but it’s a work in progress.”

And there’s a significant cost involved as well. “So the paper is - wait for it, hold your breath - 17c a sheet, where a gusset roll bag is less than 1c. Of course, everything that we sell does have a margin on it. With the paper being expensive, I have to diversify my business to try and make margin out of something. So I started doing the activated nuts in jars, and pretty much any profit that comes out of that pays for the paper.”

There’s an upside for the business as well: “The product looks more beautiful in the paper. I think it has actually given it more integrity, because it is nicer when you get it home unwrapping it. Customers have actually commented how beautiful it is that they don’t have this huge pile of plastic to chuck in the bin. So feedback’s been really good - but it was just the challenge of getting around how to wrap some stuff up!”

With plastic, wrapping was simple. “You just take the plastic bag off, put your hand inside, scoop out the amount you need and tie it up. Now it’s the complication of what are they buying, how many, what size of paper do we use, because it’s really hard to wrap a giant leg of lamb in a piece of paper or trying to get a marinaded butterflied chicken into paper without it leaking in the customer’s bag.”

And there was habit to overcome: “Even after about a month of being plastic free, I would still go and reach down for a bag: it’s just habit, the plastic habit. I had to physically take the plastic bags out of the shop the staff would just keep grabbing them. It’s an automatic movement, even for me.”

The only minor downside of the shift from plastic is that ham slices can dry out in the fridge overnight if they’re not placed in a container. “So now it’s a spiel: “Have you bought our product before? Yes, so you know to put it in a container when you get it home?” And with people bringing their own containers, that would be eliminated anyway.” Customers who do use a BYO container are rewarded with a 5% discount.

Some waste will be harder to eliminate. “Customers don’t want you to to touch their meat with your hands so there’s no getting around latex gloves. It’s more biodegradable than plastic, but still - if it gets into the ocean it’s going to do the same thing.”

“It’s going to take a long time - but then I say that it hasn’t taken long to make such a big shift for us. I think you’d be surprised once people start getting together a little bit more on issues that affect their local environment.”

'Business has a big responsibility for the local environment
- to look after their own local environment and their individual footprint'

“I think business has a big responsibility for the local environment - to look after their own local environment and their individual footprint. I have a product that I make money from and it sustains me, yet I’ll leave a trail of destruction in its wake?” That’s just not an option for Kristy. “For me, it’s a no brainer because of my children - you can be as wealthy as you like, but if we don’t start making conscious decisions now and putting it in place, then what’s the point of leaving them a bucket of money?”