Our oceans are filling with more plastic than fish, and we are relying more and more on food banks even as discarded food heads to the landfill. To say this current course of action isn’t sustainable is an understatement.
Are businesses doing enough to address the growing problem of waste in the UK? More specifically, with people struggling to put food on the table, is the hospitality sector working to stop usable food going to waste?
According to Wrap, the UK’s food and hospitality sector contributes over 2 million tonnes of waste every year, broken down into the following figures:
- 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%).
The issue of food waste is universal, of course. 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.
How are we looking to solve the problem? We asked leading 8 yard skip 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.
‘Waste’ food can still be put on plates
Coming back to the UK now, food redistribution charity FareShare is now helping JD Wetherspoons in its efforts to lower food waste. 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.
Putting food on plates instead of the landfill seems like a no-brainer. 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 initiative has surged in popularity. 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 finding its footing all over the globe too. Over 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.
Hotels and restaurants can benefit from using local produce in more ways than helping support the community; why not have some produce coming from as local as possible, your own garden? 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.
Their kitchens are supplied from the hotel’s 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 has its own still and sparkling fresh water, bottled in reusable glass bottles. The company actually treats, purifies, and mineralises its own water!
And what about the packaging?
Another major factor is the packaging around 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 hospitality sector is seeking to remove much more than just plastic water bottles. 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 is in the future for hospitality businesses looking to reduce 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. If you are one of these businesses, reach out to Reconomy for advice. 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?