Words by Christina Dean

Working as a professional chef in London for seven years, Jack Feeny had seen a lot of food and plastic waste pile up in the kitchens where he cooked, with bins quickly getting filled and the chefs having little time to do anything about it.

Though he’d always been a bit environmentally conscious, it was only when he started working at The Conduit (where this was at the forefront of its operation) that he saw how easy it was to make lasting changes. “Loads of people were trying to stop their food waste, they were single-use plastic free, and within two days – I was still using clingfilm and all these single-use products – I realised it was really easy not to,” he explains. “I thought if more chefs realised how easy it was, they’d probably make these changes because they can save money as well, so there’s quite a big benefit there too.” The idea for No Mise En Plastic, a manual of practical tips to help chefs and kitchens to get rid of single-use products, was born. 

Created from a mix of Jack’s own research, a survey he sent around to chefs and his own experience, No Mise En Plastic features everything from recommendations on refillable cleaning products to baking paper alternatives. The manual is designed to be simple, user-friendly and practical, because as Jack says, “I understand from my time as a chef, you’re understaffed, you’re busy, you’re working really long days so you don’t want to read too much. Give me the point, give me the alternative, tell me where to buy it.”

“Just removing your single-use products doesn’t make you a sustainable restaurant”

No Mise En Plastic is purposefully industry-focused rather than also including tips for the general public because the scales are so different from a professional kitchen to a home one, meaning that the impact that these changes can have is much greater. “The sheer quantities are different. At home you’d use a couple of sheets of clingfilm, in some kitchens I’ve seen, every night you wrap up every container, chefs are wrapping two or three layers, the next morning you come in and unwrap it, and you’re doing that every day for seven days a week. And that’s on each section,” explains Jack. 

As the name suggests, the No Mise En Plastic initially began as a project to eliminate single-use plastics, but Jack quickly learned that there was a lot more nuance involved. “It changed to single-use products but just removing your single-use products doesn’t make you a sustainable restaurant, it’s really important to do and it has a big impact but it has to be the whole picture,” he says. “What is good is that it’s something that you can do straight away and it’s something that changes mindsets.” 

“I understand from my time as chef, you’re understaffed, you’re busy, you’re working really long days so you don’t want to read too much”

The set-up of each kitchen also dictates what is and isn’t possible beyond plastic. Some have laundry on site, meaning the types of detergents used can be controlled or you can implement a system of cloths rather than using blue roll, while others may have composters that allow for food waste to be reused. Jack has also discovered regional differences, like the lack of a blue roll problem in the US compared to the UK (check out the dedicated Instagram account to see just how much we use it here).

It’s now been a process of growing No Mise En Plastic for Jack “to be more of a platform where chefs globally can share practical tips”. He’s added an interview section on the website and with the Instagram channel, he’s able to reach out to chefs more easily.

He’s also run a few different campaigns to spread the word about the project, like #TheLastRoll, where restaurants post a picture of the last roll of clingfilm they’re using before switching to reusable alternative; #TheRightBin, encouraging chefs to separate their waste and recycle correctly; and Zero Waste Staff Food, showcasing recipes, like cauliflower stem sauerkraut from Silo, tomato skin pan con tomate from Perilla, herb oil pulp pasta sauce from Heaneys, apricot sorbet pulp tart from Adesse, and cavolo nero stem runner beans from Retan that use up all the surplus bits of prep in staff meals.

He’s also keen to emphasise the importance of sourcing produce because that’s how a restaurant can really make the biggest impact in terms of sustainability. In fact, he’s developed such an interest in this field that he’s recently started a Master’s course in regenerative farming, with the goal of doing “a regenerative farm-to-table restaurant but with an educational side to it as well. Have a really close-knit group of chefs and farmers, where I could work in the kitchen a bit but mainly run the farm.”

There’s nothing like using your own hard work as motivation, as Jack says, “if you’re a chef on a farm and you grow a broccoli yourself from seed, you’re not going to waste the stalk, when you see how long it takes to grow, you just wouldn’t do it.” A No Mise En Plastic restaurant? Bring it on.

Local Heroes is a series where we big up the people, small businesses and neighbourhood spots that make London great, you can see more from our series here.



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