Reducing food waste

Written in collaboration with KITRO and EnviroRental

Sustainable Partner

Every year, about one-third of all the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. In the UK, for example, about 1.3 billion meals – or one-sixth of the meals served – are wasted every year. Including packaging and other waste related to food production, that’s about 2.87 million tonnes of waste. This costs the hospitality and food service sector £3.2 billion every year.  

The impact extends beyond uneaten food. Behind any food item is the water, energy, packaging, transportation and manpower that goes into bringing it to the table. And ahead of it lies the cost of disposal. Discarded food – like much of our rubbish – goes on to sit in landfills producing methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) that’s a major contributor to global warming. If the amount of food wasted globally was represented as a country, it would be the third largest GHG emitter, after China and the US.

How you tackle this issue as an accommodation owner or manager will depend on a number of factors, including the type of property you run, where it’s located and what your supply chain looks like. There are several key steps that you can take to start immediately reducing food waste at your property. We’ll cover these below, as well as the positive impact such changes can have on your business and on the environment. These actions will vary if you run a holiday rental where guests buy and prepare their own food.

Four benefits of reducing your food waste

1. It cuts costs in multiple areas

Food involves costs on both sides of the dinner table – from getting it to the customer to disposing of it afterwards. Commercial kitchens typically waste 8-20% of the food they buy. By implementing a food waste management system, a hotel kitchen with annual costs of £500,000 can cut between 2 to 8% of food-related costs – translating to £10,000 - £40,000 in potential savings. A more efficient kitchen will generally use fewer resources than a wasteful one, which means you’ll also start saving money earlier in your supply chain.

Waste disposal costs have been rising gradually as landfill sites are used up. In Switzerland, disposing of avoidable food waste costs the catering industry about 1 billion Swiss francs a year. In England, the landfill tax on active waste – waste that produces emissions like methane – has been rising steadily for the past decade. In 2023 it was £102.10 per tonne, compared to £88.95 in 2018. From this perspective, systematically reducing food and other waste is an important cost-reduction strategy for the future.

For holiday rentals, the majority of food waste is created by guests who buy more food than they actually eat. The property owner or manager is left to deal with that food waste and has to dedicate valuable changeover time to doing so.

2. You'll reduce your carbon footprint 
Because most wasted food ends up rotting in landfills, it’s a major source of GHG emissions. The methane released in decomposition has 21 times the global warming potential than carbon dioxide, making landfills a significant contributor to climate change. In countries where it isn’t possible to safely landfill waste – because the geology is unsuitable, for example – waste is often incinerated. Burning waste to produce energy is less harmful than landfilling, but still far less sustainable than recycling. Disposing of unavoidable waste properly can save up to five times the amount of energy produced by burning waste. Reducing waste overall is even more important.

3. You’ll start making data-driven decisions
The easiest way to start tackling the issue of food waste is by starting to measure it to establish a baseline. This will show you immediately where your key problem areas are,  and with newer AI-driven measurement tools on the market, you don’t have to spend any time on the data collection. The data you gain from this process will empower you and your team to analyse your kitchen’s and/or business’ efficiency and performance. Tracking performance allows you to set new performance indicators for your sustainability and financial goals. And you can use the data you collect in your sustainability reports and marketing efforts to show exactly what your business is doing to be more sustainable.

4. It helps to build a stronger brand image

People are increasingly taking sustainability into account when they make their travel plans. Research commissioned for our 2023 Sustainable Travel Report found that 80% of travellers believe that travelling more sustainably is important – and 51% still believe that in 2023 there aren’t enough sustainable travel options available. Reducing your food waste will better position you in a market of increasingly conscious consumers.

Organic food

How to reduce your food waste

Start separating and tracking

Step one for a commercial kitchen is to move away from treating waste as a whole and start looking at different types of waste. The simplest way to start is by collecting your food waste in three separate rubbish bins: one each for preparation, spoilage and plate waste. Feel free to add additional bins where appropriate. After just a few days you’ll be able to see where most of your food waste is coming from. Then you can start developing a targeted plan of action.

As your sustainability initiatives mature or you look for a less manual approach to measuring your food waste, you might want to consider adopting more sophisticated food waste measurement systems. These can help turn waste measurement into an exact science, helping cut up to 60% of avoidable food waste within the first year. As food waste technology becomes increasingly precise, the financial savings produced from cutting waste are more and more significant.

Address in-kitchen waste

A significant proportion of food waste in the hospitality sector is a result of spoilage – in some countries, it’s as high as 20%. In the past that may have been unavoidable – after all, you can only estimate how much food guests will need, not what they actually consume. Today, however, a great deal of food spoilage can be avoided by implementing practices like portion control and food positioning in buffets, or even with new technology. ‘Active packaging’ or nanotechnology monitors freshness and extends shelf life by slowing the growth of bacteria. Antimicrobial polymer films, ripeness indicators and time-temperature sensors are just a few examples. New technology isn’t a requirement, however.

  • Simply storing food properly – in the right light and temperature conditions – can prevent premature spoilage. It’s also helpful to separate foods that produce more ethylene gas – such as bananas, avocados and tomatoes – since this gas promotes ripening and could speed up spoilage.
  • When it comes to food that’s no longer fresh, think outside the box: pickling, fermenting, curing, drying and canning are just a few of the other methods that can increase the longevity of food in your kitchen.

Properly dispose of unavoidable waste

  • Recycle
    Often, at least 30% of a property’s solid waste stream can be sorted for recovery and recycling. Separating your waste by material will allow you to dispose of each in the best way possible. Firstly, it’s important to consider if it’s feasible to reduce the overall amount of packaging used by your property. Secondly, you can consider the packaging your food comes in and how best to dispose of that. By recycling packaging materials in order to be reused, you can improve the sustainability of your business. 

    How much you can recycle will depend on the recycling infrastructure of the country you’re based in. In some countries, recycling can even generate a small income.

    If you are running a holiday rental, you can make it easy for your guests to recycle by providing clearly labelled bins for their use. You can also recommend local food shops where they can buy fresh produce rather than packaged products in supermarkets.

  • Compost
    Composting is a form of recycling that involves breaking down organic waste into valuable fertiliser. The process itself reduces the amount of solid waste in your rubbish. If your property has a garden, the end product is a healthier and more cost-effective replacement for shop-bought fertilisers.
  • Donate
    There is a growing number of charities and not-for-profit organisations that are always in need of non-perishable food items or fresh produce. Consider donating your or your guests’ leftover food whenever possible, which will not only reduce waste but also give back to the local community.

Look at your supply chain

Once you’ve started getting your house in order, it’s only a matter of time before you look at where your food comes from. Consider how to simplify your purchasing to make it leaner and more cost-effective. Look at the suppliers and products you use through the lens of sustainability. Sustainable food sourcing will not only shrink your carbon footprint, it’s also often associated with lower operational costs, higher-quality products, better community relations and improved brand image.

If you run a holiday rental, check out the detailed advice from EnviroRental on reducing food waste

Food preparation

Get your employees’ input

Involving your employees is crucial. They have a unique insight into different areas of the business and may have ideas of their own on how to reduce waste. For example, a waiter who serves breakfast every day will have more of an understanding of guests’ behaviour around food waste. Look over your menu with your kitchen staff and consider how perishable ingredients or trimmings can be used and repurposed for multiple dishes.

If you are running a holiday rental, think about the welcome pack you may provide for your guests. It’s best to include locally produced, non-perishable food items in order to avoid unnecessary waste. Your staff can give you feedback on any items that are unused.

Involve your guests

  • Give them options
    The primary reason guests leave food on their plates is that portions are too large – by as much as 41% according to research. In 2018, the Alpina Gstaad hotel cut its food waste by 29% in just eight weeks – one of the key changes they implemented was smaller bread and potato baskets. Instead of serving large plates, consider offering different portion sizes, refills or options for side dishes. That way guests can build their meals with food that they’re less likely to leave behind. Make sure it’s clear that swapping food is possible, so that guests already feel comfortable asking before they order.

    You can also offer takeaway boxes so guests can take home food they haven’t finished. Be sure to check local health and safety regulations before doing this. By making it an easy and accessible option, you’re likely to see more guests opting to take home their leftovers.

    For holiday rentals, you can advise guests to buy half of what they think they may need food-wise. You can also give them recipes for using up fresh leftovers, such as a pasta sauce made with leftover vegetables. And finally, you can let guests know what food they can leave behind for you to donate to a local charity. 

Think beyond the restaurant

If you run a hotel, minibars in the rooms are also a source of food waste – not to mention a big drain on energy. Rather than having a minibar in every guest room, you can consider having snacks available to order (snacks that avoid as much plastic packaging as possible).

Show travellers what you’re doing

Once you start to implement measures to cut food waste – or if you already have some in place – you can communicate this to travellers through our platform.

Tell us if you’ve implemented any of these practices to reduce waste:

Water coolers or dispensers
Recycling bins are available to guests and waste is recycled
You have a food waste policy in place that includes education, food waste prevention, reduction, recycling and disposal
The property safely handles and disposes of its hazardous waste
The property has eliminated styrofoam food containers from its operations

Want to learn more?

Take the next step on your sustainability journey with our free online course about food management. Developed in partnership with UN Tourism, the course is packed with expert insights and practical tips you can use to integrate more sustainability-related practices into your business. 

Sign up to the course

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