Waste is not only damaging the environment, it's also costing the hospitality industry billions every year. Elly Earls finds out why much of this is avoidable and how operators can benefit from reducing their waste
Reducing waste not only has a positive impact on the environment, it can also provide a vital boost to hospitality businesses' bottom lines, thanks both to direct cost reductions and because of the reputational impact of being green. And, while investing in the latest waste reduction technologies will prove to be the right solution for some operators, making a start on dealing with waste by no means has to involve a huge cash outlay; often it's the smallest changes that can have the biggest impact.
The hospitality and foodservice sector generates 2.87 million tonnes of waste per year, including food, packaging and other non-food waste, of which only 46% is recycled, sent to anaerobic digestion or composted. Of this, a staggering 920,000 tonnes of food is wasted at outlets each year, 75% of which is avoidable and could have been eaten.
To put that in perspective, the amount of food wasted each year in the UK is equivalent to 1.3 billion meals or one in six of the 8 billion meals served each year, with 21% of waste arising from spoilage, 45% from food preparation and 34% from consumer plates. The cost of this was estimated at £2.5b per year in 2011, and will rise to £3b by 2016.
But things could be a lot worse. Indeed, according to Chris Burgess, head of sustainability at Considerate Hoteliers, the sector has
really started to up its game when it has come to addressing waste in recent years.
"It's become much better understood and as a result we are beginning to make improvements both in terms of waste reduction and diversion from landfill," he notes. "The key area of waste production is food and the topic is now often seen as a key improvement opportunity alongside better understood topics such as energy reduction."
Parts of the industry have even formalised this through the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement (HaFSA), a collaboration between the British Hospitality Association (BHA) and food waste reduction charity WRAP. This supports voluntary targets to minimise food and packaging waste, aiming to reduce it by 5% by the end of 2015 and increase the overall rate of food and packaging waste being recycled, sent to anaerobic digestion or composted to at least 70% by the same point.
Businesses that have already signed up to the targets have so far seen in total more than £10m in cost savings by reducing food waste alone, as well as gaining a vital competitive edge over their colleagues.
"Customers are much better informed now than they were 10 years ago and it is no longer acceptable for an organisation to make
broad statements about their responsible business practices; they need to demonstrate real action," says Burgess.
Understanding your waste
So what's the first step for operators that haven't yet started addressing waste or want to improve in this area? "The first step in cutting down waste is to understand the type and quantity of waste being produced," says Lucy Aldrich-Smith, policy manager at the BHA. "For example, food waste is the obvious starting point for hospitality businesses, but there are also high costs associated with waste from packaging, inefficient use of equipment and excess water usage."
glass, plastic, metals), food, mixed waste - and understand how this waste is being handled - is it going to landfill, is it being recycled?" he asks.
Incredibly, according to the BHA's Food and Service Management Report in 2014, just understanding the exact sources of food waste in an establishment can reduce said waste by anything between 30% and 70%.
Hospitality services business Bennett Hay has certainly seen the advantages of understanding where waste comes from. Indeed,
since enrolling in the Sustainable Restaurant Association's (SRA's) FoodSave programme, a free service for SMEs, which includes a detailed food waste audit and practical guidance on how to reduce the waste being generated, for one of its contracts, a legal client, the client has saved 3.4 tonnes of waste per year, and reduced the cost of waste from £25,000 to £17,000 per year.
Elsewhere, at the Clink Charity and Restaurants, since installing controls and monitoring all waste, food costs have been reduced over just a year by 25%.
Small changes make a big difference
Once the amount and types of waste generated are understood, it's about engaging both staff and clients and implementing what
might look like small changes, based on their feedback. "Try not to impose a waste reduction strategy, rather look for ways that each team member can play their part in its success through their normal everyday actions," Burgess advises.
This is exactly what's been done at the Clink. "By training everyone to recognise ways to save money and reduce wastage we've been able to identify small areas of improvement,"says chief executive Chris Moore. "We monitored wastage on plates from diners over a three-month period and instantly remedied this by reducing the portion sizes. We've seen incredible changes to the creativity of the dish plating and the thought behind the recipes."
This kind of attention to detail can make a real impact on waste levels. Elior has begun using china instead of disposable cutlery and tableware, and asking staff to suggest menu ideas that make use of items that weren't previously used, such as cooking parsnip peelings to make soup. Meanwhile, at the Roebuck, another participant in the FoodSave project, the business offers burgers without buns as a light option, advertises that takeaway boxes are available for customers, and focuses on how to use everything in the kitchen, even down to lemon seeds.
Burgess adds: "Packaging is a big part of the equation. Key to success here is to work with your supply chain to reduce the waste that they pass on to you. Some very good successes have been had through businesses negotiating the need for packaging with a supplier as this not only cuts the waste problem, it also saves the supplier money."
The available technology
Of course, an element of waste will always be generated by hospitality businesses, but there are many technologies available to ensure operators manage this sustainably and affordably, rather than bagging it up and sending it straight to landfill.
Solutions that can be used in-house include: dewatering technologies such as IMC's Waste Station, which has helped the Melia White House hotel - already a zero-to-landfill business thanks to working with Compactors Direct - reduce its food waste by 80%; and commercial kitchen bio-digesters like Kingspan Environmental's Waste 2-0 units, which digest food with a powerful formulation of naturally occurring bacteria and turn it into a greywater solution that can be disposed of down the sewage drain.
Looking beyond establishments themselves, external AD plants powered by companies like Biffa, in which food waste is digested by micro-organisms, releasing biogas, a methane-rich gas that can be used to generate renewable heat and power, are also becoming more popular within the hospitality sector.
Finally, water shouldn't be forgotten either; not only is it wasted in the kitchen for raw food preparation, cooking and cleaning crockery, there is also a huge amount of waste - and unnecessary cost - associated with buying in bottled water, something the Strand Palace hotel has addressed with an EcoPure Waters filtration system.
Before the system was installed, the hotel bought in around 35,000 litres of water per year in 750ml bottles at 34.25p each; an overall cost of around £16,000 per year. Two years after the system was installed, the business was seeing cost savings of £15,000 per year, as well as reducing the volume of bottles being handled for waste and the cost of disposal.
Help is at hand
With so many options available to operators, knowing who to turn to when it comes to waste reduction can be confusing, but there are a few comprehensive - and free - resources that provide a great starting point. According to Burgess, you couldn't do any better than consulting the WRAP website, a free and extensive source of information, while the BHA is also happy to connect businesses to leaders in the field, helping operators gain peer-to-peer advice from companies that have been there already.
Finally, the SRA's free FoodSave programme is easy to enrol on and has already delivered fantastic results, with average annual savings per SME of £6,000 and two tonnes, and total savings so far of £350,000 and over 250 tonnes.
It really is a case of waste not, want not - so, why not start today?
Give us your views on waste and you could win £250
To learn more about attitudes to waste, The Caterer is asking operators to complete a short survey to establish how much consideration is given to the issue and what can be done to improve working practices. The results of the survey, conducted in partnership with Winnow, will inform a feature in The Caterer which will address the challenges facing the hospitality sector regarding waste. All survey participants will be entered into a prize draw to win £250.
To inform our research, visit http://tinyurl.com/neejxmq
BaxterStorey: measuring waste to improve margins
At BaxterStorey, measuring and understanding where food waste comes from has hugely helped to reduce the business's carbon footprint and improve margins.
In July 2014, the company's sites began reporting their daily food wastage using its online accounting system, Evolution, with each location weighing its separated food waste at the end of the day and logging the figure on the online system. Once inputted,
management was then able to view accurate food cost percentages and better understand the impact of wasted food on margins.
The food waste is also separated into plate waste, spoilage waste and production waste so each location understands precisely where food waste is coming from.
"This new online platform has generated huge reductions in our food waste," says BaxterStorey's head of sustainable business Mike Hanson. "In fact, for one of our large city clients we have seen a massive 72% reduction in food waste, alongside an 8% increase in food sales and a 6% increase in gross margin. It's been very simple and cost effective to implement this new system and we've had brilliant feedback from our clients in response."
Brookwood Partnership: involving customers in initiatives
At education caterer the Brookwood Partnership, getting clients - in this case pupils - fully involved in waste reduction initiatives
has been key to its success.
"Our dedicated sustainability team is responsible for engaging our clients, pupils and employees within each of our food waste
campaigns," says managing partner Kate Martin. "Their involvement is crucial to both the implementation and impact."
Nowhere is this more obvious than through Brookwood's food waste innovation - superhero Captain Wasteless, who helps to promote the company's plate waste campaign and educate pupils on environmental issues.
"Through experience we know that children really care about their environment and that they are the generation who can make a difference. We therefore developed Captain Wasteless to be something the children could relate to and interact with," Martin says.
It's already started working, despite the fact that the campaign is still very much in its infancy, with one site recording a 10% reduction in food costs and another a 41% reduction in waste. And, emphasises Martin, this is just the beginning. "Captain Wasteless is now part of everyday life in 47 of our sites. As and when we secure further contracts, the concept will be offered to the school as part of the added value we offer our clients," she says.
"We hope that Captain Wasteless will continue to support our waste campaign for many years to come."