Local Food Economy

“There is always something that can be done, however small, which may help to change things for the better”

By Dave Fung

Dave Fung
Photo by Steph Wetherell

Dave Fung, Director of the Assembly Bakery in Old Market, describes some of the steps his business is taking to become more sustainable, supporting Bristol’s bid to become a Gold Sustainable Food City.

Sometimes, trying to be more sustainable as an individual seems difficult enough. It is fraught with moral conundrums, indeed, even understanding what impact our actions have on the world or what counts as “sustainable” or “unsustainable” can be a minefield. Running a business makes the whole concept appear even more tricky.

The use of plastics seems almost inevitable, particularly in the food industry, and finding time to reduce our environmental impact sometimes feels like a luxury that few in this industry can afford. However, there is always something that can be done, however small, which may help to change things for the better. So I would encourage all Bristol business and individuals to register with the Bristol Going for Gold website, read the resources and start making a few changes, however small, to make Bristol a more sustainable food city.

At the Assembly Bakery, we have managed to make a few changes, particularly in the last year, which we are proud to talk about, which help to reduce our environmental impact. Switching to biodegradable and recyclable packaging seems an obvious one and one we thought we had been doing all along. But it turned out that one of our food containers had a plastic lining which we weren’t even aware of for far too long. This is an example of how having a conversation with your suppliers about what you want can really change things.

There is often a trade-off to be made as to whether recyclable or biodegradable is a better choice, especially when it comes to plant-based plastics which can only be composted in specific conditions and often just end up in landfill where they will not decompose. We have also started buying more refills when it comes to cleaning products, helping to reduce the amount of single-use plastic we use. Buying certain pieces of equipment that seem costly at the time (like trolley covers) help to cut down on plastic and will actually save money in the long-run. 

Taking time to return boxes and containers to the suppliers which they came from is another one which many businesses do, but these practices are often the first things to be forgotten when things are stressful and not going your way. 

Sometimes it is hard to maintain positive changes – for example, we had an electric van for three years, but at the end of the lease, other pressures meant we had to get a diesel one instead, which was disappointing. We are keen to return to electric as soon as possible. However, we have made sure to stick to a renewable energy supplier for our gas and electric.

We are always trying to find new ways to use leftovers or unsold stock. We make bread and butter pudding from old croissants, put sourdough in our treacle tarts, give old bread to charities, individuals or whoever we can and try to manage our stock levels carefully to reduce food waste. But we would be lying if we said we didn’t waste any food. Having a good waste management system is crucial, and even more difficult is learning and teaching staff what can and can’t be put in each bin. We are also pleased to have joined the Too Good to Go scheme recently – a really useful app for selling your leftovers at the end of the day to reduce food waste. Recently they informed us that we have saved more than 1,000 meals from going to waste, which is apparently 2500kg of C02 emissions prevented –as much as driving from London to Edinburgh and back seven times!

Of course, there are the usual things which should be the focus of any food business like sourcing ingredients seasonally and trying to plan menus which use ingredients with as few food miles as possible, and produced as ethically as possible (buying organic is one way to achieve this). By now most of us are aware that meat carries a heavy carbon footprint and many consumers are choosing to eat less meat. Catering to these preferences is an important part of reducing our own and our customer’s carbon footprints. Obviously, sourcing high-welfare meat and dairy from as locally as possible is another crucial factor, which is why we get all our meat from Origin Butchers, a fantastic free-range butcher from Bristol who sources all their meat from nearby counties. 

Dave Fung is Director of the Assembly Bakery in Old Market, Bristol. The Assembly Bakery opened four years ago and is a sibling of The Old Market Assembly, The Canteen and No. 1 Harbourside. The award-winning bakery specialises in hand-made sourdough, bread, cakes, savouries, pastries, and sandwiches and is among Bristol’s favourites.

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