EXCLUSIVE: ‘One-size-fits-all levy’ not the answer to tackling food waste, argue experts

Instilling a culture that drives employees to take a more responsible approach to food waste – rather than relying on government to impose mandatory regulations – could hold the key to hospitality operators getting a proper grip of the issue in future, experts have suggested.

Food waste is said to cost the hospitality and foodservice sector more than £2.5 billion a year, the equivalent of one in six meals served being wasted, according to figures from WRAP.

But companies that are having success in this area claim there is evidence to suggest that giving staff greater ownership of the matter, and making it compelling for them to make smarter decisions, can deliver tangible results.

Contract caterer BaxterStorey operates a food waste management programme across more than 900 sites, with plate waste, spoilage waste and production waste logged through a proprietary online system called Evolution. It estimates that it has cut food waste by 40% since rolling out the project four years ago, saving clients more than £2m in disposal costs.

Head of sustainable business, Mike Hanson (main picture), said the secret of the scheme’s success is the fact that it hasn’t been enforced on sites.

He explained: “We evidenced it originally in a trial way back in 2013. We tested it in a few locations and we tracked margin, costs and sales and demonstrated the impact that it had on those. They are not being told to do it, but they are given all the reasons why they should do it. And why wouldn’t you do it when it is going to [result in all these benefits] for you? The process of empowerment and training has worked. When we launched the project originally, people thought it was going to be a lot more work but they have come back and said, “actually, we have all got into it and it has increased our sales and our margin”.

Mr Hanson said it was also important to note that the approach has been instilled through its leadership team, Chef Academy and development team so that the entire company “lives and breathes it”.

Pernille Thomsen, communications and social media manager at UKHospitality, which represents more than 700 operators spanning 65,000 venues, agrees that a carrot over stick mentality is likely to ensure a better outcome.

“I think it is important that things are voluntary because when it is voluntary you can implement them in ways that work for businesses themselves, whereas if we had governments forcing a one-size-fits-all levy it wouldn’t work for all businesses and a lot of the time it would cause them to waste money and not actually achieve the goal of minimising waste.

“I think industry can help itself and the government needs to support rather than heavy-handedly putting on enforcements. Give incentives or motives to businesses to be able to put the right resources or the right waste management systems in place.”

Whether it is possible to achieve significant progress without any mandatory influence remains to be seen. Some onlookers point to the carrier bag tax as an example, nothing that the 80% reduction in bags would have been unattainable had legislation not been introduced.

Alice Woodwark, managing director of Restaurant Associates (pictured above), believes the industry needs to be careful about the balance between voluntary and compulsory and incentives and costs.

“If you look at what the British regions have done on macerators and anaerobic digestion, Ireland and Scotland have much stronger rules in place than Wales and England. If I look at the business that we have, for example, in Scotland versus what we have in London, the difference in rules on macerators has forced both us and our clients, I believe, to take a more responsible attitude to what we do. At some point, as a society, we do need to make ratchet movements forward in terms of what we think is acceptable.

“I think there are a lot of people who are working 200 yards from here in well-paid, white collar jobs who would be quite shocked if they knew how the waste from their site is being disposed of and yet it is all completely within what is legislatively allowed. Personally I would love to have the Scottish rules across the UK because I think they are right. I think anaerobic digestion is an incredibly important part of what we are doing and it doesn’t happen in a lot of sites in England because we don’t need to. Incentives are wonderful things, but you know what, I think we have reached the stage as a society where principals would suggest that over time we have to make decisions.”

For more views on the challenges that operators face when it comes to managing food waste, read our coverage of the special FEJ editorial roundtable on the topic, in association with IMC, in the current edition of the magazine HERE.   

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