Serving up a food waste solution

With the annual cost of food waste in the hospitality and foodservice sector set to reach £3bn this year, ReFood's Philip Simpson discusses the challenges facing the industry and how businesses can recuperate losses through better reduction and recycling strategies.

According to the latest research findings from WRAP, one in six of the eight billion meals served throughout the hospitality sector each year is wasted – a staggering figure. However, more worrying still is the understanding that 75% of this figure could be avoidable. 

Clearly, the amount of food being wasted across the whole hospitality sector is a huge issue. However, this also means that there is a significant opportunity for the food services industry to reduce its costs.  Even just a 5% reduction in food waste has the potential to save the sector a total of £250m over two years, alongside reducing CO2 emissions by around 2.7 million tonnes. 

— Food waste: Opportunity knocks for hospitality businesses —

Waste has the potential to be generated at each key stage of meal preparation and production. In a typical restaurant, for example, 45% of total food waste comes from preparation, 34% from consumer plates and 21% from spoilage. The first step, therefore, is for businesses to determine where and why waste is generated.  By doing so, they can review systems and processes to see where improvements can be made, such as demand forecasting, menu planning, changes in food procurement such as delivery times and frequency, food storage, portioning and serving. 

Sustainable solutions

Taking action in these areas will not only reduce the cost of wasted food but could also bring other efficiencies to the business.

Concerns have been raised not only about the volume of food waste in the industry but also the way in which it is disposed of. Less than half of all food waste generated by the hospitality and food services sector is recycled, with a great deal of it still being sent to landfill.  However, this is not a sustainable solution because unless action is taken, the UK is likely to reach current landfill limits in around two years’ time.

At ReFood, we want to see zero food waste going to landfill and, as such, we’re already helping numerous businesses in the hospitality and foodservice sector to recycle their food waste.  We turn all types of food into renewable resources, via anaerobic digestion (AD) – even packaged items. The AD process harnesses the natural rotting of food by capturing the biogas produced and using it to generate heat and renewable energy – both electricity and gas – which are sent directly to the grid. Meanwhile, the resulting residue can be used as a sustainable fertiliser; enabling beneficial nutrients to be retained and reinvested right back to the beginning of the food chain.

Realising value

Despite its clear benefits, however, WRAP’s figures show that more food waste is currently disposed of via sink disposal units (140,000 tonnes per year) than is sent to AD or composting (110,000 tonnes per year).

We believe that the true value in food waste should be realised. By providing a dedicated food waste collection and recycling service, we can help businesses in the hospitality and food services sector save as much as 46% on waste costs by diverting food from landfill. What’s more, across our operations, ReFood produces enough renewable energy from waste to power 25,000 homes nationwide.

So why aren’t more foodservice businesses already implementing waste-management processes?

It could be because there is a belief that food recycling is difficult to implement, but this doesn’t have to be the case.  The ReFood service actually takes away a lot of the hassle for businesses, replacing full bins with sanitised ones after every collection. These clean bins can be used directly in kitchen areas so food waste can be separated as it is produced – making waste management simple, clean and easy. This removes any worries about ‘smelly’ waste or bin cleaning and ensures the service is hygienic. All types of food – be it preparation waste, scraps and even packaged products – can be thrown in the bins, making it simple and straightforward for businesses to implement.

Our dedicated ReFood vehicles collect food waste on a schedule dependent on individual requirements, visiting each business, picking up full bins and recycling 100% of food waste at our state-of-the-art AD plants.

Case study: The Savoy

One example of a hospitality business successfully using our food waste recycling to deliver significant results is The Savoy in London. As one of the world’s most iconic hotels, when it comes to sustainable practices, The Savoy is also one of the best. 

Almost half a million meals are served in its restaurants each year, so an effective food waste strategy was an essential part of the hotel’s aim to be one of the most sustainable luxury hotels in London. Following a successful trial, ReFood’s food waste collection and recycling service was rolled out, contributing to a near perfect 100% waste diversion and recycling rate.  Testimony to this is the fact The Savoy has won an SRA award for ‘Best Food Waste Strategy.’

As both the Government and consumers alike become increasingly concerned about the issue of food waste, the hospitality and foodservice sector needs to take action now by implementing strategies to minimise and recycle food waste.

Introducing waste reduction measures, such as streamlining menu choices and removing garnishes, combined with using a food waste collection and recycling service, addresses both sides of the problem and can help businesses to significantly reduce costs and protect their reputation.

Philip Simpson is commercial director at ReFood, a food waste recycling and waste management service that uses renewable energy to dispose of commercial food waste sustainably.

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