Food waste in the hospitality sector

Barely a day goes by where the plight of our planet isn’t in the news. Plastic is suffocating the sea, rubbish is piling up on the land – slowly, we’re making improvements, but how far do these improvements currently stretch? In particular, food waste is being spotlighted as a problematic waste point. People are heading to food banks in droves, so why is it that we have so much food going to waste? Is the food and hospitality sector doing enough to put as much food on plates as reasonably possible before condemning stock to the landfill?

Data from Wrap shows how the UK’s food and hospitality sector creates over two million tonnes of waste per year:

  • Hotels — produce 289,700 tonne of waste each year, including 79,000 tonnes of food waste (9% total food waste from the sector).
  • Pubs — produce 873,800 tonnes of waste each year, including 173,000 tonnes of food waste (19% total food waste from the sector).
  • Restaurants — produce 915,400 tonnes of waste each year, including 199,100 tonnes of food waste (22% total food waste from the sector).
  • Other hospitality sectors’ food waste contributions: quick service restaurants (8.3%), staff catering (2%), leisure (7%), services (3%), healthcare (13%) and education (13%).

Naturally, the problem of food waste isn’t confined to the UK. The National reported on the issue of food waste in Dubai, with the problem being particularly fuelled by hotels and restaurants wasting ingredients on over-the-top portions. Over in Egypt, Al-Monitor revealed that larger supermarkets in Egypt are wasting 20% of produce due to insufficient storage facilities. The news outlet also reported that, like in Dubai, the issue of food wastage from hotels and restaurants is also particularly problematic in Egypt. Buffet-style offerings can reuse and recycle food not taken, but many customers “have the habit of piling their plates”, says Egyptian Food Bank CEO, Moez El Shohdi. Anything uneaten on the plate goes in the bin.

What methods are being used to combat the problem? We asked leading eight yard skip hire and waste management experts Reconomy, to investigate the various processes that are being implemented throughout the hospitality sector to tackle waste heading to the landfill.

Sending surplus to plates instead of bins

Back on UK shores, JD Wetherspoon have enlisted the help of food redistribution charity FareShare to deal with its surplus food stock. SHD Logistics reported on the matter, saying that the food donated by the pub chain is surplus after a recent menu shake-up, or food that has had its outer cases damaged. While not problematic for the food itself, it isn’t cost-effective to make it commercial-viable again.

Diverting food from the landfill when it could be used to fill stomach is a simple answer that is gaining popularity. The Real Junk Food Project is a UK-based global movement with the goal to “abolish surplus food”. This is achieved by intercepting food waste from a variety of places, such as hotels and restaurants, and using it as ingredient to prepare and serve in its many cafés and pop-up stalls across the country. The Real Junk Food Project also runs a ‘Pay As You Feel’ scheme – basically, you pay what you want. You can part with your money, or your time by helping as a volunteer if you want to. The aim is to make sure everyone has access to a meal, which everyone could, if this usable food doesn’t go to landfill.

The idea of ‘Pay As You Feel’ has been a great success too. The project has grown, and they have now been able to open sharehouses for people to take surplus food stocks themselves to use at home. Again, customers pay nothing or something, money or time.

It’s working well overseas too. In New Zealand, Nic Loosley has opened a Pay As You Feel restaurant called Everybody Eats, where visitors can enjoy a three-course meal prepared from food headed to landfills. The food would only have gone to waste otherwise and is better used to help feed those who might not be able to enjoy a meal otherwise. According to Loosely, around a third of people do leave money for the meals.

How hotels are becoming self-sufficient

Local food is great, and hotels and restaurants can supplement this with ingredients that are even closer to home than that! Forbes revealed some of the ways the eco-hotel and spa, Six Senses, maintains luxury with sustainability. From villas built to stay cool, to air conditioning that turns off if the doors are opened, Six Senses have thought of everything when it comes to embracing balance.

The ingredients at Six Senses are certainly fresh, as they are harvested for the kitchen from their own garden! The garden is tended to without synthetic chemicals and is fed with recycled water. Any hotel or restaurant with the capacity to do so should look into planting a garden for its kitchen use, even if it is just a small herb garden – any small change can reduce the need potentially over-purchase from a supplier.

Six Senses bottles its own still and sparkling fresh water in reusable bottles too. The company actually treats, purifies, and mineralises its own water!

Food packaging waste

It’s also important to consider the packaging of our food and drink. BRITA UK conducted a study, titled The Planet Around You: How Hospitality Businesses Are Addressing The Sustainability Challenge. In the publication, it was noted that 70% of businesses are currently looking to cut down on single-use plastics, like straws and water bottles. Plus, 64% of consumers said they would likely return to a shop with the intent of making a purchase, if they could refill their water bottle. The incentive of refillable water bottle stations could be further supported, says Martha Wardrop, Green councillor, when she spoke to the Evening Times:

“[There is a] need to help turn the harmful tide of plastic waste and little from single-use plastic bottles,” she said, “which is damaging the marine environment and blighting our streets.” The councillor went on to say that pubs and cafes could do their part by offering free drinking water to everyone, not only customers, by signing up to an initiative such as Refill.

The sector is also aiming to remove other plastics from use. USAToday revealed steps a number of hotels are taking in an active attempt to lower the use of plastic. From the Hilton vowing to remove all plastic straws from its hotels by the end of 2018, to the Marriott replacing the individually offered toiletries with reusable dispensers, no one is resting on their laurels. Taking a look at airlines, United Airlines recycled 13 million pounds of plastic and other materials in 2016, and Alaska Airlines are currently in the process of replacing plastic stirring sticks with white birch stirrers. Over in the fast food sector, McDonald’s have chosen to remove plastic straws from use at their restaurants.

What does the future look like for hospitality businesses looking to cut down their waste? BRITA UK went on to conclude that over 40% of hospitality businesses are seeking more information and advice on how to become more sustainable. Could you offer water refills, or switch out plastic single-use bottles to alternatives? What can you do today to avoid leaving a mark on landfills?

By waste management experts, Reconomy

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