Tackling food waste – how hospitality businesses must pull their weight

ReFood commercial director, Philip Simpson
15/12/2017 - 09:14
UK foodservice businesses are constantly under scrutiny for the amount of food the industry wastes on a day-to-day basis; and rightly so when the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) estimates an annual equated cost of £2.5 billion – 75% of which could be prevented. Katie Imms reports.

Among the greatest causes, WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) claims that “45% of all food waste is generated during the preparation stage,” while 34% comes from customer plates and 21% due to spoilage. Having attended its ‘Your Business Is Food’ event (October) in collaboration with TRiFOCAL (Transforming City Food Habits For Life) and chef Cyrus Todiwala, it’s clear that there is unanimous agreement that the issue needs to be addressed and something needs to change.

While the charity’s three-year, life-funded ‘Take Action on Waste’ project hopes to “increase awareness of food waste, sustainable healthy eating and reduce costs of food per London household,” ReFood commercial director, Philip Simpson, this week shared his insight and advice on how operators can fight back against waste.

As well as posing a “serious” sustainability issue, food waste is also hugely expensive - costing the average restaurant £19,000 a year, according to WRAP. Claiming that “waste management begins with waste prevention,” the association recommends using surplus ingredients to inspire and create other dishes; reducing meal sizes and offering add-ons/extras instead; as well as taking advantage of new technologies to better run kitchens.

Simpson agrees: “The volume of waste coming direct from the customer’s plates could be a sign that portion sizes are too large, or that dishes are finished with too many unnecessary garnishes. What’s more, with almost a quarter of all waste caused by spoilage, businesses should investigate processes to make sure food is being stored correctly.”

He also suggests separating waste at source so that “stock can be diverted from landfill to redistribution schemes” and businesses can analyse the volume of each food group regularly wasted. This will enable them to amend ordering processes - reducing waste, costs (of ingredients and waste) and helping to avoid landfills altogether – as proved by the 80%+ of SRA members who already do so.

A number of businesses tackling food waste directly have also started popping up across the country in recent years, including the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant, Silo (Brighton). Using a 'special' compost machine, it “processes all of its food waste, so that absolutely nothing produced in the kitchen goes to waste.” Other hospitality outlets such as The Savoy and QHotels have also developed “a more sustainable approach” to food waste management, relying on ReFood to collect its waste and turn it into renewable energy via AD.

Although it’s impossible to deny that progress has, and continues, to be made, one in six meals in the UK still ends up in the bin, meaning that there is a significant way to go. Simpson added that to win the war, “more proactive engagement" from the high street’s biggest name restaurants is needed, in order to encourage smaller and independent businesses to follow suit and pull their weight.

With industry leaders including WRAP, TRiFOCAL, ReFood, and chefs and restaurateurs working together to combat the issue, only time will tell how successful efforts are and what steps the hospitality industry will take next to prevent food waste.

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