Waste reduction: food for thought

Waste Reduction Food

Waste is a key issue for the hospitality and leisure industry.  In particular, a recent report from WRAP[1]  estimates the cost of food waste to the industry at £2.5 billion per year rising to £3 billion per year by 2016.

Businesses have several legal obligations when dealing with their waste.  As well as complying with the waste management “duty of care” (ensuring that any waste is produced, stored, transported and disposed of without harming the environment), businesses also have an obligation to apply the “waste hierarchy”[2] which ranks waste management options according to what is best for the environment.  Businesses must take all reasonable measures to prevent waste in the first place.  Failure to properly consider the waste hierarchy renders a business liable to receive a compliance notice from the Environment Agency breach of which is a criminal offence.

When waste is created, priority should be given to re-use, recycling, recovery and as a last resort, landfill.  Usually the rankings should be applied in this order except where it would not achieve the best environmental outcome.  As waste management technologies become more sophisticated, so their impact on the environment relative to other options may change.  For example, current research shows that for food waste, anaerobic digestion is environmentally better than composting and that for mixtures of food waste, dry anaerobic digestion followed by composting is environmentally better than composting alone.

The WRAP report outlines a list of opportunities to enable businesses to reduce their waste:

  • Waste monitoring - businesses that are successful in consistently reducing their food waste consistently monitor spoilage, preparation, unserved food and plate waste streams in order to tweak their menus, hone portion sizes and improve demand forecasting.
  • Menu planning – this is an important driver to reduce food wastage. A balance needs to be struck between offering a wide enough choice to customers whilst minimising waste.
  • Demand forecasting – most businesses do not aim to produce surplus food but there is also a reluctance to under-produce, especially where there is a risk of running out or there are financial penalties within catering contracts. Monitoring of waste and consumer numbers can help in this regard.
  • Packaging – optimise packaging e.g. using returnable and re-usable transit packaging whilst ensuring that product protection and product quality is maintained. Where possible opt for green glass rather than clear as it has a higher recycled content.
  • Storage, stock management and bins– ensure fridge and freezer equipment is well maintained and monitor stock closely to ensure food is used up in the correct order.  Consider adjusting the size of bins or collection frequency.
  • Charitable donations and doggy bags – redistributing surplus food to charities and allowing customers to take home doggy bags are further options for reducing waste.  However, businesses should ensure compliance with food safety legislation to ensure any such donations can be done safely and customers are given sufficient information regarding storage and consumption.

Many restaurants, hotels and pub companies are already tackling food waste which is commendable from an environmental and social perspective but also for the considerable scope for financial savings to be made as well as ensuring compliance with the law.



[1] Overview of Waste in the UK Hospitality and Food Service Sector, November 2013

[2] Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011

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