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You may be surprised or even shocked to find out that one third of all food we produce globally goes to waste. To put that in perspective 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted per annum, which is enough to feed 12% of the population. To look at it a different way, to produce the amount of food the average person wastes per year, 498m2 of arable land is needed (almost the size of 2 tennis courts).
With an ever increasing population, the amount of food that we waste globally will naturally increase unless we do something about it. There are many contributing factors to this issue, which include food production, domestic food waste and also commercial waste. This post investigates methods in which commercial catering businesses such as restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels can reduce their waste. After all 600,000 tons of food is wasted at a commercial level each year in the UK resulting in a substantial cost to the economy and a huge cost to the environment.
The food waste pyramid shown below is a visual representation of the process that needs to be adopted in order to reduce wastage. The most preferred option stands at the top of the hierarchy whereas the least preferred, in this case landfill is shown at the bottom.
First and foremost is to Reduce the amount of waste generated, you can do this by planning orders more accurately to prevent overstocking and over production. Investing in better storage facilities to maximise the shelf life of the food. Or identify alternative markets or methods to sell your food, such as specials boards or reduced prices.
Food that you can’t sell, but is still good to eat should be given to people in need. There are many charities set up to redistribute food amongst disadvantaged people such as the homeless.
Any food that is no longer fit for human consumption could be used as livestock feed. Wherever possible you should direct any bakery, fruit, vegetables and dairy products to farms and small holdings so they can feed it to their animals. Remember that 25% of food waste is made up of scraps, out of which 90% is reusable.
Energy recovery is a very expansive subject and covers a lot of areas, some of which we will look at in more detail later in this article. The under pinning ethos is that any unavoidable food waste is sent to composting, or to be used as fuel for transport, to create heat or electricity.
Finally any food waste that does not fit into the previous categories will be sent to landfill and disposed of. However it is important to remember that food waste in landfill sites gives off methane gas as it breaks down which is 21 x worse than carbon dioxide. Therefore this should only be used as an absolute last resort as there are many more environmentally friendly alternatives available.
If you’re a restaurateur or business owner you may be concerned about the costs associated with implementing measures to reduce the waste that your company generates and this may well act as a deterrent. However it is possible to significantly reduce your waste without spending a penny, quite the opposite in some cases as it is estimated a 20% reduction in food waste would save a restaurant approximately £2000 per year. Further to this, restaurants with good sustainability credentials could potentially be more appealing to an increasingly environmentally focused population. A study indicates that 70% of diners would prefer to eat in a restaurant with good environmental ethics when compared to a restaurant that doesn’t. So to summarise the points made in this paragraph, by minimising the impact that your business is having on the environment, in theory you can reduce costs and increase revenue.
How Can the Amount of Waste a Restaurant Generates be Reduced?
There are many ways that you can reduce waste in a restaurant, cafe or any other commercial catering business. To begin with you need to create a system for organising your waste, it is imperative that food is separated from other waste that you are disposing of. For example you may have one bin for organic waste, one for card / paper, one for metal and one for glass. When you have an infrastructure in place, you can then build on it. Train your staff well to ensure that they stick to your new waste management regime.
Sourcing ingredients locally not only supports your surrounding communities and reduces your impact on the environment due to lowered transit time. But it also means that you can buy just what you require and top up later if needed. This minimises the chances of food going off before you have chance to serve it to your customers.
Whilst it is often good to provide a variety of dishes on your menu, each dish could potentially be adding to your overall food waste. This is because your chef(s) will need to prepare a set of ingredients for each dish offered so you don’t run out. By carefully analysing your menu and perhaps in some cases reducing the number of choices or changing them to minimise preparation you can significantly reduce your overall food waste.
A widespread issue in commercial catering is that many diners leave a proportion of their food on their plate, a study shows that 27% of diners in the UK do this and 41% of them say that it is because the portions were too big. There are a number of ways to avoid this problem; A traditional method to combat this is to provide doggy bags so your customers can take any unfinished meals home with them to eat at a later date. A study has indicated that the majority of customers would feel embarrassed to ask for this service but would be more than happy to accept a doggy bag if it was offered to them. A more recent method of food waste prevention is to provide a “Top up System” where diners can ask for a second helping if the first portion wasn’t enough to fill them. An alternative method to this is to serve small, regular and large portions, priced accordingly and let the diner decide upon ordering.