Waste might not seem the sexiest topic. But many operators are squandering up to £20,000 a year through bad waste management. That could go straight back onto your bottom line through implementing some very simple measures. Got your attention?
Essentially, many practices which have evolved over the last century or more to create ‘luxury' in the hospitality market have resulted in an increasingly wasteful environment. Mark Linehan, managing director of the SRA, says: "Restaurant food waste is a huge problem. It's costing the industry a fortune and so much of it is avoidable."
But operators are waking up to smell the used coffee granules. Waste is expensive. And it's getting more so. The costs of sending waste to landfill is only set to increase so operators who don't tackle this issue - because they can't be bothered or think it's some green/eco bandwagon - do so at their own financial peril.
With food waste banned from landfill altogether in the Republic of Ireland last year, and set to be banned in Scotland from 2015, Paul Bracegirdle, environmental manager at Sodexo warns: "It's something we're going to have to address." A ban is likely to to filter through to England next and that, combined with the current increases in landfill tax and fuel charges, will tip the balance to make it financially more expensive to send waste to landfill rather than recycle. "It makes sense to start looking at this now and getting systems set in place," adds Bracegirdle.
John Firrell, director of the Considerate Hoteliers Association acknowledges that the subject is complex. He advises "wasting less" and getting tough with suppliers and their use of packaging.
"If more establishments threatened to terminate agreements if packaging isn't reduced, it wouldn't take long before suppliers got the message," he points out.
Two key initiatives have been launched within the industry recently to help operators reduce waste.
Too Good To Waste
To help restaurants tackle plate waste, which accounts for a third of all restaurants' food waste, the SRA launched its Too Good to Waste campaign this month which promotes the use of doggy boxes for customers.
Thomasina Miers, co-owner of Wahaca and supporter of the scheme, says: "I always ask for a doggy bag. As a chef I like people asking to take food home because it shows respect for where the food has come from. Gone is the day when we can take our food for granted. Wasting food is criminal."
Another proponent of the initiative, Sriram Aylur, director at The Quilon, agrees, adding: "The amount of food wasted in London restaurants is a scandal. As restaurateurs it's in all our interests to do something about it. Too Good to Waste is a great idea because it will not only be good for the environment but also makes real business sense."
The SRA will also be helping restaurants implement measures to cut the amount they waste during mise en place - prep waste accounts for two-thirds of all food waste.
United Against Waste
On a more operational level, restaurateur, chef and director of Food Solutions consultancy, Chris Barber, teamed up with Unilever Food Solutions to create United Against Waste, a new scheme aimed at providing practical help and advice to reduce waste.
Tracey Rogers, director of UFS says: "Chefs are trained incredibly well in certain areas of kitchen management - they have to be when it comes to safety and waste management needs to become as integral as that. The training needs to start early at catering college so trainees understand that the profits of a business can turn on how well - or badly - they are managing waste."
Barber adds: "This campaign is all about what operators can actually do and how they can make practical changes. There are lots of practical solutions, not just worthy corporate slogans."
He explains it's about all chefs, regardless of level, empowered to understand that, not only can they save money, but it's their responsibility to be the guardians of the planet. "It's like having a vote, it is your problem and your responsibility. Saving money is important, but the whole issue is a hell of a lot more important than just saving money."
Converting waste to energy or compost
Part of Jurys Inn's green initiative is to recycle all food waste. Previously the hotel's waste management contract consisted of a 1,100 litre bin of general waste daily which amounted to 7,700 litres of landfill waste per week.
The amount of waste going to landfill has now been reduced dramatically with only one general waste uplift Monday, Wednesday and Friday (3,300 litres). All food waste is now uplifted daily for free and taken to a local recycling plant in Glasgow, where it is converted into renewable energy or compost.
All other waste in the hotel is recycled and the hotel now sends 8 x 1,100 litre bins weekly to the recycling plant which turns it into renewable energy. In doing this they have more than halved the monthly waste uplift bill.
The approach is quite simple. A Green Team was set up in June 2004, and includes members of the management team, maintenance and staff members from each department. May McLellan, the hotel's accommodation manager and green champion, delivers environmental training programmes for other hotels in the group specifically targeted at waste reduction called ‘Let's Talk Rubbish'.
This year the hotel won the Scottish Hotel Awards' Green Hotel of the Year (third year running) and Green Hotel Group of the Year (second year running). In 2010 the group was awarded 29 Gold Awards and 1 Silver Award from the Green Tourism Business Scheme.
10 waste-busting tips for restaurants and caterers
1 Buy products with less packaging and talk to suppliers about reducing packaging and delivering in returnable/reusable packaging
2 Reduce food waste by reviewing your: purchasing practices (only buy what you need); portion sizes (reduce sizes, offer different sizes, doggy bags, employ nose to tail eating); storage methods; and food preparation practices (do not over trim, use carcasses, bones and trimmings to prepare stock for sauces or soups)
3 Cut down on disposable items such as plastic cutlery, plates and napkins
4 Get buy in from your team. Form a recycling team, set a target, include waste reduction into your induction and incentivise staff to reduce waste.
5 Use left-overs from previous meals you have made to make new meals
6 Reuse containers like plastic bottles and ice cream boxes for other purposes and use refillable condiment dispensers, rather than single portion sachets
7 Carry out a visual waste audit and set up a recycling scheme (more info at http://recycleatwork.wrap.org.uk)
8 A compactor will help to reduce the physical volume of the recyclables and therefore the cost if charged per bin lift
9 Recycle used cooking oil into bio-diesel - some suppliers will help with this
10 Close the Loop - buy recycled goods, print menus on recycled paper and use food grade recycled plastic containers
Source: Ethical Eats/Sustain & May McLellan, Jurys Inn Accommodation Manager & Green Champion
Sustainable waste disposal
Contract caterer Sodexo has set itself several objectives to achieve by 2013 including increasing food waste recovery at clients' sites by 50% and reducing packaging weight by 20%.
Up until a year ago, clients were mainly driving the food waste recovery initiatives at operations, but now environmental manager, Paul Bracegirdle, explains things have changed.
"The priority is cutting down on food waste in the first place, through employee engagement and tracking progress and then it's about using food reduction technology to dispose of what remains." This is of particular importance in remote areas which impact fragile ecosystems.
Sodexo has developed a range of sustainable waste disposal solutions which clients can choose. With coverage across the UK, Sodexo then matches sites with the closest facilities. "We don't want to transport waste too far," he reasons.
The group has also adopted some innovative on-site technology. Options being trialled include aerobic digestion (AD) which turns food waste into a compost; in-vessel composting; food drying machines; and waste to energy, available either on-site or transported to a special food waste treatment site.
In addition, its food production business, Tillery Valley has reduced its waste to landfill by delivering its surplus fit for consumption food to FareShare, the national food poverty and food redistribution charity.
Sending food waste to the local farm
The Casa Hotel in Chesterfield has implemented a new food recycling scheme as part of its ongoing waste management and recycling efforts. The kitchen now sends all its food waste - except meat and plate scrapings - to the nearby Walton Lodge Farm (belonging to the hotel's owner, Steve Perez), where it will be fed to pigs that will in turn be used by Casa for bacon, sausages and pork.
Perez explains: "By recycling food in this way, we ensure that far from going to waste, it is instead used in positive and innovative ways to help the environment and help feed locally reared animals that produce high quality meat.
"The results are beneficial to everyone, most importantly the environment. It would be great to think that we are setting the standard for waste recycling that others might follow."
In a separate initiative, a member of the hotel staff is transforming used cooking oil from the kitchen to produce a bio-fuel that he uses to power his car instead of diesel.
Waste: The facts
1 The sector produces 3.4 million tonnes of mixed waste. Of this 48% is recycled, reused or composted, while 43% is thrown away, mainly to landfill.
2 70% of the mixed waste currently sent for disposal could be recycled using existing markets
3 SRA research found that the average London restaurant wastes 21 tonnes of food every year. A third of all restaurant food waste is plate waste.
4 The industry could save an estimated £724m a year by increasing recycling rates and preventing food waste - or £20,000 per year per restaurant
5 Simple measures could cut food waste by 20%, therefore saving £2-4,000/year.
Source: WRAP & SRA