SPECIAL REPORT: The true cost of kitchen waste

Mechline 2

It is an area of the kitchen that foodservice operators can be forgiven for overlooking when the heat is on, but failure to get a handle on food waste can have costly implications for any business running multiple sites. FEJ reports.

Food waste is big business. This year the cost of food being wasted in the UK from the UK hospitality and foodservice sector is alarmingly predicted to exceed £3 billion. It is a figure that has grown by some £500m in the last five years alone as the number of people eating out has exploded.

According to WRAP, UK hospitality businesses produce a total of almost three million tonnes of waste per year, consisting of packaging (1.3 million tonnes), food waste (920,000 tonnes) and other ‘non-food’ wastes that includes disposables such as kitchen paper (660,000 tonnes).

It is generally when contracts are up for renewal that the sudden realisation of the true cost of the waste food becomes apparent”

In addition, an estimated 130,000 tonnes of food is wasted from the preparation of ready-to-serve food items and meals at foodservice manufacturing sites. Ready-to-serve includes sandwiches, soups, sauces and pre-prepared meals. It all adds up to the equivalent of 1.3 billion meals — or one in every six of the eight billion meals served each year — being thrown away.

But let’s face it, the industry shouldn’t need big figures to shock them into action. All operators will be aware of the costs associated with food spoilage, bad prep and plate waste although how this is managed varies greatly from one brand to the next.

Meiko GTS food wasteBill Downie, managing director of Meiko UK, which offers solutions such as Disperator food waste disposers and WasteStar vacuum waste systems, says that attitudes towards food waste management are softening and operators are giving it the attention it deserves.

“Some retailers, restaurants, hotels and chain operators are keenly aware, and have been for some time, that putting food waste into landfill is costly, as well as entirely unsustainable, especially in congested town or city centre locations,” he comments.

“Hospitals, hotels, restaurants, MoD sites, universities, schools and residential care homes around the UK are installing a range of equipment, from waste to water, dewatering and high volume vacuum waste systems incorporating food waste holding storage tanks. The key issue is to choose a reliable and proven method of food waste handling from a supplier who can offer product expertise. Potential customers should look for testimonial feedback on the performance and cost savings to be made from existing users.”

Understanding and realising that you have an issue with waste allows the process of reduction to begin”

Food waste specialist IMC believes a greater focus on green credentials has woken the industry up to the issue of food waste, but suggests that it’s the fiscal implication that always drives the message home. “It is generally when contracts are up for renewal that the sudden realisation of the true cost of the waste food becomes apparent,” notes commercial manager, Gary Barnabus.

He also points out that the topic of food waste is still very region-specific. “Much tighter regulations are obviously coming into force in Scotland, but we are also seeing these types of regulations coming into place outside of the UK in locations such as Canada and individual states within America. Local authorities each have their own requirements, so it is best to check with these as to the specific requirements.”

Another company with its finger firmly on the food waste pulse is Mechline. Mechline believes that campaigns like the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall-inspired ‘#wastenot’ and the work being done by the SRA and WRAP are raising the profile of the issue, not just within the kitchen but with customers, who are increasingly demanding a sustainable meal and sustainable supply chain behind the scenes.

Mechline 1Mechline says restaurant chains are becoming more active in the way they deal with food waste, pointing to its work with the Festival Place Shopping Mall in Basingstoke as an example. There, says marketing manager Kristian Roberts, the centre’s operator provides 28 restaurants with the chance to make use of three on-site Waste20 bio-digesters. “The machines operate 24 hours a day, with collections being taken from restaurants to a central food bio-digesting point,” he says.

Roberts also says the firm has observed growing interest in its Mechline Food Waste Reduction Programme (FWRP) during recent months. The collateral offers operators insight into how they can manage food waste more effectively. “Chefs, kitchen staff and facilities managers are exploring alternative technologies and methods of cutting down food waste,” says Roberts.

Another impressive shared approach to food waste can be found in the heart of one of the country’s busiest shopping districts, where the London Regent Street food waste recycling centre handles the food waste from a number of foodservice outlets within close proximity. It relies on Meiko’s MicroVac vacuum waste system to process the waste.

Meiko’s Bill Downie says that bagged food waste from various restaurants, hotels and retailers is collected four times a day using a battery-powered vehicle and this food waste is then processed through the waste inlets located within the food waste recycling centre.

“The tanked food waste slurry is then emptied by tanker collection every seven to 10 days, with the contents taken to a processing facility in Sittingbourne, Kent, and turned into compost, supplied without cost to local farms and vegetable growers,” he explains.

“The benefits for the users include more frequent food waste collection and improving conditions for their operations, while there is now no food waste left on the streets and subsequently less pests and rodents.”

Yet, for all the advantages that an efficient and systematic food waste strategy can promise, those with experience of this market sector acknowledge that awareness is an ongoing process of education. Operators are not always privy to the array of technology available to handle food waste, while greater efforts are needed to articulate the individual cost, environmental and operational benefits attached to the various solutions on offer, be it collection, maceration or bio-digestion.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 10: A prep cook throws food scraps into a compost bin in the prep kitchen at The Slanted Door restaurant on December 10, 2010 in San Francisco, California. One year after the San Francisco board of supervisors passed the nation's strictest recycling law, the residents of San Francisco have composts more than any other city in the country, with a 200 percent one year jump in composting. The city has also achieved a better than expected 77 percent diversion from landfill goal that was set at 75 percent by 2010, the nation's highest for any city. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Mechline’s Kristian Roberts insists that the brand’s Waste 2O bio-digester offers the ideal in-house solution without the need to store food waste for collection or pay collection and disposal fees, but he recognises that installing the right equipment is only half the battle. He suggests that operators need to get kitchen staff engaged on the issue.

“Food waste is simple to measure and monitor — there are opportunities to reduce costs associated with wastage. The responsibility of food waste should be shared throughout the kitchen. It is not possible for one person to manage food waste alone — communication throughout the kitchen can enable everyone to play their part.”

Perhaps the sternest challenge for any operator is facing up to the extent to which food waste is an issue for their business in the first place. IMC’s Gary Barnabus hears the words ‘we don’t produce any food waste’ all too frequently. He says it usually takes until a food waste audit is undertaken before the true scale of the situation sinks in.

He concludes that operators simply need to accept that every hospitality organisation produces food waste — it’s how the production and disposal of it is managed that matters. “Understanding and realising that you have an issue with waste allows the process of reduction to begin,” he says.

It is advice that will need acting upon if the industry is to finally rein in its annual £3 billion food waste bill.

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