As the European Union introduces a raft of measures aimed at making member states less profligate with their resources, commercial kitchens can play their part by adopting a more measured approach to food waste and save a ton of cash in the process, writes Barry Dennis, chair of the Resource Efficiency and Waste Management Show (RWM).
Food waste is a serious issue. Each year the UK foodservice sector serves over eight billion meals and produces nearly one million tonnes of food waste.
Three quarters of this could have been eaten and is equivalent to throwing away one in six meals.Estimates suggest that the amount of food being thrown away from the hospitality and food sector each year amounts to £2.5 billion. Being more efficient with waste management equipment and processes in kitchens not only reduces costs, but lowers the environmental impact of food production and consumption.
In December 2015, the European Union launched its ‘Circular Economy Package’, which introduces a raft of measures to enable Europe to become more efficient with its resources. Food waste was one of the key areas addressed, as it is an increasing concern across Europe.
Actions are designed to support the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, whereby the United Nations General Assembly adopted a target, in September 2015, of halving per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reducing food losses along production and supply chains. The EU and its Member States are committed to meeting this target. An important part of the Circular Economy Package is the Food Waste Action Plan, which sets out the European Union’s approach to defining and better managing food waste in accordance with the waste hierarchy (reduce — re-use — recycle — dispose).
While historically the best management approach for food waste was considered to be composting or anaerobic digestion, there has recently been a much greater focus on preventing food from being wasted in the first place.
When waste cannot be avoided, food redistribution schemes are being prioritised, followed by the conversion of non-edible food waste into animal feed. Both of these approaches will help Europe halve its food waste while keeping food in the food chain. Reducing food waste makes good business sense, and there is a growing industry in the UK dedicated to food waste reduction and management.
Reduce waste and reduce costs
The vital first step to reducing food waste at source is to understand how much is being wasted. According to WRAP, in commercial kitchens, food waste that could have been eaten costs a business 38p per cover, rising to 97p for restaurant meals. If a restaurant serves 1,000 covers a week, that amounts to over £50,000 per year in wasted food alone.
Larger commercial and food manufacturing kitchens are increasingly installing telemetry systems to measure the amount of waste being generated at different stages of the process. With accurate information about where waste is being generated, managers can start to identify suitable interventions to reduce waste and save money.
If a restaurant serves 1,000 covers a week, that amounts to over £50,000 per year in wasted food alone”
For example, British company SugaRich, which recycles surplus food, installs its own equipment into manufacturers’ premises to weigh and analyse waste arising down to line or shift level. Unavoidable waste is then blended and converted into nutritious animal feed, keeping food in the food chain and reducing disposal costs.
If food waste isn’t suitable for redistribution to charities or conversion into animal feed, then it can be used as a fuel to generate renewable energy. That’s what one start-up business called Bio-bean is doing with waste coffee grounds collected from cafes and restaurants.
Accessing the right support
Once the European Circular Economy Package is transposed into UK legislation, there will be even more of a drive to keep food out of landfill and make the most of its value. Food waste from catering businesses will be coming under increasing government scrutiny, so it makes sense to plan ahead at the earliest opportunity.
A good place to start is the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement, a voluntary agreement managed by WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, to support the sector in reducing waste and recycling more. The agreement is flexible to allow any size of organisation to sign up, from multinational companies to smaller businesses, from sector wholesalers and distributors to trade bodies.
WRAP and other organisations and businesses offering food waste solutions will be attending and exhibiting at RWM 2016. Last year’s speakers included Karl Falkenberg, environment director general of the European Commission and Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO of WRAP. For companies wanting to reduce food waste, and find better alternatives than landfill for unavoidable waste, the RWM exhibition provides the ideal opportunity to start planning for a more resource-efficient future.
Waste tops the agenda
RWM 2016 is Europe’s largest event dedicated to resource and waste management. Taking place at the NEC in Birmingham on September 13-15, RWM 2016 will also host a wide range of food waste equipment suppliers, with systems that help catering companies reduce food waste and compost it on their own premises. The three-day event, which is organised by i2i Events Group in partnership with the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, is free to attend and features a vast exhibition, conference sessions and numerous opportunities to network.