Food waste: it’s an issue that every kitchen has to contend with but one which continues to divide the market, particularly when it comes to the most effective methods of managing and containing it.
One of the challenges is that food waste is derived from more than one channel. It can come from prepping, ingredients that are no longer in date or not needed, excessive portion sizes and, the one that tends to be the hardest to predict, leftovers on a customer’s plate.
Operators are looking closely at ways to reduce the amount of waste they create, certainly more so than in the past, leading many to adjust menus, portions and methods of production. But even so there will always be a certain amount of wastage that needs to be processed and that calls for operators to explore the solutions that will work best for their business.
The most effective way to manage food waste is to treat it at source, advises Steve Witt, managing director of IMC. “Along with grease traps, dewatering units not only assist with the removal of food waste but they also facilitate FOG removal from the waste stream, preventing this from becoming an issue further down the system.
As well as removing food waste from the pipelines, dewatering causes FOG to bind to the food during the process and, depending upon which disposal process is used, such as composting or anaerobic digestion, this FOG-laden recovered food waste can be a very valuable resource.
Furthermore, implementing a waste management system that incorporates a dewatering system not only recovers the waste from the pipeline, avoiding potentially costly blockages, it also reduces the volume of kerbside collection by up to 80% with an average payback in less than two years.”
For Paul Anderson, managing director of Meiko, managing food waste in a better way involves thinking outside the box to find workable future-proof solutions that deliver a tangible payback.
He says that the company’s WasteStar CC food waste recycling system keeps food waste out of drains and turns it into biogas. “That biogas is then fed into a combined heat and power plant to produce heat and electricity, recovering energy to produce more food. This is happening now. The world is changing because some operators are forcing the pace with the help of Meiko’s waste recycling technology.”
Anderson adds that the key to food waste is that it has value in terms of energy. He suggests operators need to keep an open mind. “We have created individual solutions for customers to recycle food waste and shared solutions where operators within close proximity effectively share the recycling system and its benefits.”
Glenn Roberts, chair of CESA, agrees that there is a lot of good that can come from managing food waste responsibly.
“One of the key focuses of innovation has been the turning of food waste into a resource — for example, biofuel or compost and the reclamation of phosphorous for fertilisers. Operators are discovering that the right system can transform a cost into a profit. Manufacturers will develop more of these money-spinning systems in the coming years.”
IMC finds that most operators it talks to want to reduce the cost of both handling and collecting food waste. “This process should start as soon as the kitchen orders its food for the week and we have worked with sites who have reduced their purchased food costs by 10%, before even looking at the issue of food waste,” says Witt. “When it comes to the food itself then portion control offers one of the largest savings — it’s no coincidence that ‘all you can eat’ venues stand to gain the most from food waste solutions. Controlling purchased food quantities, portion size and reducing landfill and haulage charges helps both the business and the environment.”
What about from a regulation point of view? Is there anything specific that operators need to bear in mind when it comes to managing food waste in 2018?
“Regulations vary, depending on where the operator is,” says Glenn Roberts. “This can have implications for any chain operating across the UK, as they may need different solutions in the four different countries. The regulations are in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland, while Wales is expected to publish during 2018. There is no news on England’s plans yet.”
When it comes to the food itself then portion control offers one of the largest savings — it’s no coincidence that ‘all you can eat’ venues stand to gain the most from food waste solutions”
IMC’s Witt believes there would be a much greater focus on waste management if operators knew exactly how much they could save, pointing to the results that have been achieved in Scotland since the government began its big push on food waste.
“There, food waste is deemed as a valuable resource or fuel, which can be used to generate energy and the focus is on collecting it rather than disposing of it down the drain. If this principle were rolled out across the entire UK foodservice industry then the volume of untreated waste that needed to be collected would make the process very expensive, but not if operators implemented a waste management system. Employing a dewatering system that reduces the volume of kerbside collection would cut this cost dramatically and offer the best of both worlds,” he says.
Food waste management is undoubtedly at its most effective when the management and kitchen operators sign up to the same goal. And it’s important for users to constantly be looking at the bigger picture.
“Food waste handling systems are not just ‘plug and play’ solutions, but form part of a wider environmental care system that brings other benefits such as improved hygiene, reduced costs including energy and labour and better ergonomics for kitchen staff,” says Meiko’s Paul Anderson.
Many may still think that kerb-side collection provides a green and easy solution, but nothing could be further from the truth, concludes Roberts at CESA. “In fact, food waste equipment systems are often ‘greener’ and, once installed and staff trained properly, easy to manage. Plus, by-products such as biofuel or compost can add to the operator’s bottom line. There are a range of solutions including macerators, dewaterers, vacuum and pumped waste systems and composters,” he says.
A £2.5 billion food waste problem
The true cost of food waste to the UK hospitality and foodservice sector is more than £2.5 billion a year — on average that’s one in six meals served, according to government body WRAP. Throwing food away costs much more than just the waste disposal bill; there is the cost of the food itself, the fuel in cooking and the time staff take to prepare it and throw it away. How much money would be thrown away if a 180 litre wheelie bin was filled with food waste every week? Each one would cost around £200 — multiply this by 52 weeks and it totals £10,500 a year.