INSIDE THE KITCHEN: The hidden cost of food waste

Food waste

The challenges of operating an efficient commercial kitchen and delivering high quality meals in a short space of time can sometimes mean that taking measures to reduce food waste are not always a priority for operators. But with an estimated 75% of food waste said to be avoidable, and the ‘unavoidable’ 25% needing to be dealt with responsibly, experts insist it’s time the industry took an inward look at its actions. FEJ reports…

The catering industry is changing how it deals with kitchen and restaurant food waste. Foodservice consultants and kitchen planning specialists especially have placed food waste handling solutions at the top of their design agenda. Hotel groups, restaurants, hospitals and care homes have also been attracted by the potential cost and labour savings, as well as the hygiene benefits.

Operators with multiple sites certainly stand to benefit from a coherent waste strategy given their respective scale and this has led many to think proactively.

“There is no doubt that major operators take the issue seriously,” says Martin Allen, project manager of First Choice Environmental Solutions. “Spread across a large estate, the cost involved with dealing with food waste is considerable and therefore one they cannot ignore. At the other end of the spectrum, I believe the situation is far different. The smaller operator will often only do the bare minimum or possibly only take action when they are forced to do so by legislation; basically when it starts to hurt them financially.”

Far too many operators simply want to dispose of food waste in the cheapest way possible with scant regard to sustainability, the environment or legislation”

Perry Davis, director of Compactors Direct, tends to agree. He thinks there is still a long way to go before waste management is held in the same high regard throughout the sector. “In my experience there are many good operators who take the management of their food waste very seriously. However, far too many do not, they simply want to dispose of it in the cheapest way possible with scant regard to sustainability, the environment or legislation. The acid test of when operators as a whole are taking it seriously will be when they start promoting how they manage their food waste on menus as many do now with how they source their ingredients.”

For Glenn Roberts, chair of CESA, waste management should really start before waste becomes waste. In other words, operators should be asking themselves how they can reduce the amount of waste they are creating. “Adjusting portion control? Tweaking the menu? Changing the way food is stored? Switching from a cook serve to a cook chill system? Examine all the options, learn the lessons and implement changes to reduce waste. After those steps are completed is the time to consider the best systems for dealing with the waste that’s still left.”

enviropure

Roberts notes there are several solutions available to operators when it comes to food waste management solutions, particularly given the view that traditional kerbside collection is not always the best way to deal with general food waste.

“For example, dewaterers can be used to squeeze water out of waste after it has been ground down by, say, a food waste disposer. While the water can safely go down the drain, the dry residue can be turned into high-energy compost using in vessel composters (IVCs), or it can go for separate collection at lower cost, because of the reduced weight. In closed vacuum and pumped waste systems, the waste is pumped to holding tanks where it can be processed. Another option is food waste digesters, which use a formulation of micro-organisms to convert food waste into a non-toxic liquid that is safe for drains and sewage systems.”

There is certainly an argument that recycling rather than disposal is key to obtaining the most benefits from handling food waste. Meiko has had success with its WasteStar CC vacuum food waste processing systems. UK managing director, Bill Downie, insists they represent the future for commercial kitchens because they create a sustainable return from kitchen scraps and plate waste, saving cost and labour for the caterer and helping to create a more hygienic environment.

“Food waste inlets — standalone or built into tabling — macerate food waste into a liquid which is then pumped to a holding tank and collected by tanker to be recycled into fertilizer, compost or biogas,” he says. “Vacuum systems eliminate traditional food waste bins from the floor and ensure that no food waste needs to be moved around the building.”

Additionally, argues Downie, vacuum systems eliminate the ‘hidden’ costs of foodservice waste, such as the labour involved in moving and repeatedly sanitising wheelie bins and floor storage bins.

“Part and parcel of this kind of investment is also the marketing benefit brought to the catering operator. Vacuum systems also effectively eliminate the need for the many thousands of black trash bags used annually by kitchens — a cost-saving but a bigger sustainable ‘win’ when you can publicly claim to have cut the use of waste sacks to a small or even zero percentage.

Over at Compactors Direct, Davis vehemently believes that aerobic food digesters hold all the answers for restaurant operators. “They cost-effectively, hygienically and odourlessly turn food waste into grey water that can exit the restaurant via the grey water drain,” he says. “There is no need for of bags and bins of food waste awaiting collection for disposal, which smell and attract all manner of vermin. In addition, this helps reduce journeys made by waste collection vehicles, easing traffic congestion and emissions.”

He adds: “Aerobic food digesters also weigh the amount of food waste allowing operators to monitor this over multiple sites. This data can be accessed over the internet via PCs and smartphone so records are actually recorded. Sites can be compared so steps can be taken to reduce waste.”

IMC waste station

Kristian Roberts, marketing manager at Mechline, which markets the Waste²O machine, estimates that up to 75% of food waste is avoidable. To assist operators with taking the right steps, it has created the Mechline Food Waste Reduction Programme.

“It quite simply highlights how to manage end-of-life food waste in a circular way beginning with prevention, reduction and reuse followed where necessary with redistribution, recycle and reprocess,” he explains. “For large foodservice operations across all sectors looking to improve their bottom line, there are compelling financial reasons for considering a food waste reduction programme and end-of-life food monitoring system.”

In terms of waste management trailblazers, the signatories of the Courtauld Agreement, which supersedes the Hospitality and Foodservice Agreement on Food Waste (see panel left) signposts some of the big players that have made a real commitment to the cause. Asda, Compass Group, Greene King, KFC, Nando’s, Pizza Hut, Sodexo and Tesco are among some of the industry giants that have pledged their support.

In my own view there are still no clear and cohesive guidelines to follow. An area the size of the UK should not have such different sets of rules”

Meiko says that major blue chip sites in the UK including financial institutions, retail sites and MoD users are among the big adopters of large integrated systems that involve food waste inlets at various locations and over various levels of their buildings, linked to a central storage and collection tank, while individual sites such as the Don restaurant in London have also benefitted from installing a vacuum waste system. “A two-inlet system, linked to storage tank, has cut waste collection to once every four weeks, rather than the twice daily event it was before the new system was installed. Cost savings achieved were approximately £800 per month at 2014 prices,” reveals Downie.

Steve Witt, managing director of IMC, thinks that operators interested in performance indicators such as targeted waste and cost savings are the most proactive. “Furthermore, whilst the appeal of managing sites that are reducing operating costs year on year is obvious, those that combine this with higher goals, such as environmental targets or developing a green culture, appeal not just to customers and operators but also investors,” he notes.

If you’re looking for specific operators that manage food waste in a hands-on way, Compactors Direct’s Davis picks out Kurt Zdesar, founder of Funcina, Black Roe, Chotto Matte, Ping Pong, Nobu, Mews of Mayfair and Icha Icha. “Kurt can see beyond cost to the value proposition and is passionate about sustainability and environment.”

Wastestar CC_V3 2250 cropped

2017 will inevitably bring new challenges when it comes to waste management and the obligations placed upon operators. “Nobody has a crystal ball, however I am of the opinion that clear legislation will be the bugbear of many operators especially those with limited resources,” says First Choice’s Martin Allen. “In my own view there are still no clear and cohesive guidelines to follow. An area the size of the UK should not have such different sets of rules (for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland).”

IMC’s Steve Witt also shares the view that confusion within the industry is the biggest challenge confronting it during 2017. “Legal waste standpoints are being twisted to suit the situation while waste bans are being used in an attempt to force sales when there is no basis for such claims in certain countries,” he says. “In short, there is no clear message from the industry or its trade bodies.”

With the post-Brexit devaluation of the pound and resulting inflation of UK food prices, it would seem there has never been a more opportune time for foodservice operators to study their food waste policies so carefully.

“With greater focus from foodservice operators on costs we will surely see an increased focus on reducing food waste to its minimum to ensure continued profitability,” says Mechline’s Kristian Roberts. “Whichever way you look at it, there are many benefits to taking preventative measures to reduce end-of-life food waste including cost savings by reducing food disposal, reducing food purchases by using ingredients more effectively, minimising cost of wasted ingredients, and reducing overall cost of end-of-life food by reducing energy, labour and other associated costs.”

Upper and Lower

Industry pact delivers £67m food waste savings

UK businesses involved in the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement (HaFSA) saved an estimated £67m through their combined actions to prevent food waste over the three-year period from 2012 to 2015.

HaFSA signatories were particularly successful in reducing food and packaging waste for their sector, exceeding the 5% target and achieving an 11% reduction against the baseline. The final year reduction in waste arising was 31,000 tonnes lower than the baseline, the equivalent of 80,000 tonnes less CO2e.

Food waste prevention activities have saved an estimated 24,000 tonnes of food from being thrown away cumulatively over the three years of HaFSA, the equivalent to 48 million meals with a value to businesses of £67m. Redistribution of surplus food has also doubled during the agreement to 760 tonnes, equivalent to 1.5 million meals.

This target was delivered through a number of actions, including the creation of a food waste prevention working group and the delivery of training. Working with signatories to measure food waste and highlight the cost of it was key to driving forward changes to improving efficiency, save money and raise customer satisfaction. Best practice guidance was also produced for the sector.

OPINION: ‘Value engineering’ threatens waste management best practice

Steve Witt, managing director of waste management equipment specialist IMC, questions whether aggressive cost-cutting measures threaten to halt industry-wide improvements in waste management.

“The advent of organic waste awareness, in this instance food waste, is obviously not a new issue — IMC has been tackling the issue since 1956 when it started to develop products following changes to legislation. In my experience, dealing with environmental issues such as food waste is complicated and requires engineered solutions which are relatively expensive. Unfortunately, it seems that these solutions are frequently the first to be dropped as soon as somebody involved with the project mentions the dreaded words ‘value engineering’, often purely as an excuse to cut costs.

“In doing so, and conveniently ignoring not just the benefits, but also the part such decisions play in holding back improvements in waste management technology, it could certainly be said that the industry as a whole is indeed paying lip service to the issue. It is a fact of life that operators are there to hit targets, be they related to turnover or covers, so perhaps those targets should also include how much organic waste is diverted from landfill?”

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One Comment;

  1. Cathy Wilcox said:

    Excellent article – at WB we’re always trying to find a good solution to this increasingly difficult problem and have taken time to investigate all systems as its not ‘one size fits all’

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