The hospitality sector is responsible for 10% of the total 10.2 million tonnes of food wasted in the UK each year, with the cost of avoidable food waste varying between 38p and £1 for every meal it serves. It is a scenario that demonstrates why the industry needs support with food waste management solutions. FEJ asks leading suppliers to share their thoughts on possible solutions and outline systems that can help operators ensure it doesn’t become a growing burden.
It is estimated by WRAP that nearly £3 billion worth of food is wasted every year across the entire hospitality and foodservice sector, of which 75% could have been eaten. What do you think are the key reasons why this remains such an issue for the industry?
Kristian Roberts, marketing manager, Mechline: To prevent food waste, businesses need to first understand where and how food waste is being produced. Without this understanding, businesses are less likely to identify appropriate opportunities to prevent and reduce food waste and implement any meaningful change.
In order to make the changes sustainable, it is important that all staff ‘buy in’ to the project and understand why it is so important. Wasteful behaviours need to be changed into new waste-less behaviours, and often people have barriers up that need to be addressed.
These might include established routines and habits, lack of knowledge, fear of getting it wrong, no interest, or language barriers. Mechline has developed a Food Waste Reduction Programme to help businesses take action to reduce avoidable and end-of-life food, which includes steps on conducting a food waste review as well as advice for getting staff engagement.
Richard Harland, managing director, Waste2 Environmental Systems: No hospitality provider goes into business to waste money but that is exactly what happens each time food is thrown away.
Why it continues to be an issue is largely down to its invisible status: if you don’t track it, it cannot be measured. There is also an acceptance that waste is inevitable; watch one of the restaurant kitchen editions of MasterChef and you’ll see that if the fish is overcooked or the sauce catches, it is thrown away without a second thought.
The first step is to track and calculate it to understand how much of an issue it is. The second step is to identify where it is happening and why. The entire team should be involved and asked to be extra-vigilant.
How much ‘unavoidable’ waste is created at the food preparation stage? Is buying certain items in bulk the most efficient way? Are portion sizes too large?
Are the team on top of their processes or could some improvements be introduced? Once a business can see the food waste as an issue and identify the problem areas, then it can do something about it.
Lee Shelton, head of sales, Filta Group: Portion control remains one of the biggest issues and until this is addressed, it’s unlikely we will see any signification reduction in the amount of food being returned. It’s a fine balance, because if it’s too small a caterer can risk disappointing customers; too large and it will inevitably lead to food wastage, which means they are literally throwing money in the bin.
Of course, wastage does not just apply to food which has been serviced. Food storage is another issue, particularly now that space is being squeezed more than ever in kitchens due to social distancing. Again, there is a trade-off for caterers to consider — fewer deliveries means a lower cost, but this relies on having the space (including refrigeration and freezer space) to store food without compromising quality or usability.
I believe it’s also important to look at what we do with unused food. There are some fantastic initiatives now to help get food to worthy causes and third party organisations rather than simply disposing of it, but there is still a lot of work to do. My hope is that we can develop a seamless system to donate as much of this food as possible, integrating supply chains to drive down waste and deliver benefits for all.
There are some significant campaigns to try and reduce the cost of food waste, mainly aimed at making simple, low-cost changes to the way food is bought, prepared and served. Some waste, of course, is completely unavoidable, in which case the attention turns to its disposal. How can operators ensure food waste doesn’t become a cost burden on their business?
Paul Anderson, managing director, Meiko: To ensure food waste is not a burden, the industry needs a food waste handling system that, together with better food management, makes a positive contribution to the planetary balance sheet. These are early days for the food waste-to-energy industry.
Right now, it is an achievement to cut our food waste handling costs to the minimum. In the future, you can bet that your purchasing professionals will have calculated the volume and nature of their company’s food waste (water content/fat content/energy value etc) so that they know what they have to negotiate with.
It may be later rather than sooner, but someone will strike the first deal whereby they generate a cash return for a fixed-term deal to supply the AD plants.
And that caterer will almost certainly be using a homogenizing food waste handling system; because this delivers the highest energy conversion for the AD plant and therefore generates the most highly prized food waste product.
Our latest BioMaster food waste recycling system homogenizes food waste into liquid slurry, for storage in sealed tanks and later processing into biogas or fertilizer. BioMaster is suitable for all types of caterer and early users praise the hygiene and ergonomic benefits, as much as the financial.
Steve Witt, managing director, Ecofast: There are many solutions to dealing with food waste. Collection via an approved collection service committed to taking the food waste to an appropriate facility where this waste stream can be turned into energy is one route, but to really ensure that food waste is not a cost burden on any foodservice establishment an equipment solution for the reduction of this collection service in line with legislation is a must. Our solutions offer two methods to ensure businesses have an attractive ROI.
We offer a purchased route or CAPEX where the capital purchase can be depreciated or amortised over a period of years, offsetting their corporation tax while realising, typically, an ROI of under three years or less.
There is the OPEX route of leasing, which again can be tailored to suit the customer. Leasing agreements from two to five years are possible and paid for on a monthly basis via the leasing agreement. In some cases, the leasing agreement is nearly covered by the cost reduction realised by reduced food waste collection charges.
At Ecofast we aim to be as flexible as possible with both our solution and our financing. If we can’t solve your problem with our products we’ll point you in the direction of someone who can!
Sam Smith, director of marketing, Leanpath: The food recovery hierarchy gives important guidance in terms of the best options for dealing with food waste in the hospitality sector.
At the top of the hierarchy is “source reduction,” more commonly referred to as food waste prevention — the idea that a kitchen prevents food waste from happening to begin with, rather than focusing on what to do with it after it’s created.
When food waste is prevented, kitchens stop purchasing that food only to throw it away. They stop investing labour in prepping food only to throw it away. And they stop paying to have the food waste hauled away.
The key to food waste prevention is measurement: tracking your food waste so you know what is being wasted and why. With that data, you can then make smart adjustments to purchasing, prep and operations that avoid creating food waste.
A simple example: through food waste tracking, a kitchen sees it is throwing away a half case of fruit every week because of spoilage. Understanding that, the kitchen can easily adjust the amount of fruit it purchases or improve inventory operations to make sure the fruit has a longer shelf life.
In focus: Meiko BioMaster
The Meiko BioMaster homogenizes food waste into liquid slurry, for later processing into biogas or fertilizer. The product of the system is biomass, which is a gradable source of energy power and/or fertilizer.
BioMaster accepts and processes all food waste including soup, sauce, grease and gravy, cooking oils and fats and even shells and bones, all of which cannot be processed by grey water systems. BioMaster also processes flower stalks, which can clog other forms of macerator.
No extra labour is required to run BioMaster; indeed labour is saved by removing the need to move food waste outside; instead of plate scrapping to bins, BioMaster seamlessly slots into the dishwash system where plates are scraped into BioMaster’s stainless steel hopper instead.
Standalone BioMaster units replace bins in food prep areas. Running costs are minimal; just a small amount of electric energy and water. Indeed, Meiko suggests the BioMaster can pay for itself just on the hygiene benefits by saving the space for waste food storage — often a separate chilled area — and the time, energy and chemicals required to keep this area or traffic path hygienically clean.
Winning the food debris battle
One of the biggest issues operators face is how to manage food waste that comes back with customers’ plates. Leftovers are a common cause of blocked drains in commercial kitchens and while good housekeeping should prevent this, it is not always the case in a busy kitchen.
Food filters offer an extra solution, removing food waste carried in drainage systems to prevent drain problems which can become a costly burden if left unmanaged. Filta Group’s GreaseMaster solution, for example, works in three stages to remove unwanted debris, ensuring that caterers can achieve compliance and reduce the risk of drainage issues.
“The first of these stages is food removal, where any unwanted food debris is automatically captured and held in a removal food strainer basket. It’s a simple but vital measure which can help to remove the cost burden of food waste,” says head of sales Lee Shelton.
Filta Group’s system is fully automatic, works by gravity and the only staff interaction required is to empty the recovered food and waste. It also contains no moving or mechanical parts to break or maintain.