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 all meals served—is wasted every year. Including packaging and other non-food waste, that’s about 2.87 million tons of waste. In 2018, this cost the sector £3.3 billion.
The impact extends beyond uneaten food. Behind any food item is the water, energy, packaging, transportation, and manpower that went into bringing it to the table. And ahead of it lies the cost of disposal. Discarded food, like much of our garbage, goes on to sit in landfills producing methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) that’s a major contributor to climate change. If the amount of food wasted globally were represented as a country, it would be the third largest GHG emitter after China and the US.
How you tackle this issue will depend on the type of property you run, where you’re based, what your supply chain looks like, and a number of other factors. There are several key steps you can take to start reducing your food waste immediately. We’ll cover them in this section, as well as the positive impact they can have on your business and the environment.
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 after. Commercial kitchens typically waste 8–20% of the food they buy. By implementing a food waste management system, a kitchen with annual costs of £250,000 can cut up to 8% on food costs – translating into £20,000 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 landfills fill 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 2020 it was £94.15 per ton, compared to £88.95 in 2018. From this perspective, systematically reducing food (and other) waste is an important cost-reduction strategy for the future.
2. Your environmental footprint will shrink
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
You have to measure food waste before you can reduce it. You can use the data you gain from this process to analyze the efficiency and performance of your kitchen and/or business as a whole. Tracking performance allows you to set new key performance indicators for your sustainability and financial goals. Plus, you can use the data you collect in your 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 making travel plans. Research commissioned for our 2019 Sustainable Travel Report found that 70% of global travelers were more likely to book a stay if they knew the property was eco-friendly, whether they were looking for a sustainable stay or not. Reducing your food waste will better position you in a market of increasingly eco-conscious consumers.
Start separating and tracking
Step one is to move away from treating waste as a singular whole and start looking at different types of waste. The simplest way to start is by collecting your food waste in three separate garbage bins 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 develop, you might want to consider adopting more sophisticated food separation and 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 cost 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 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 good deal of spoilage can be avoided 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, though.
- 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 past freshness, think outside the box. Pickling, fermenting, curing, drying, and canning are just a few of the methods that can extend and even enhance the life of food in your kitchen.
Properly dispose of unavoidable waste
A hotel’s solid waste stream can often be sorted for recovery and recycling. Separating your waste by material will allow you to dispose of each in the best way possible. First, it’s important to consider if it’s possible to reduce the overall amount of packaging used at your property. Next, you can consider the packaging your food comes in and how to best dispose of that. By recycling packaging materials to be reused, you dramatically improve on the sustainability of your business.
How much you can recycle will depend on the recycling infrastructure of the country you’re in. The Strattons Hotel in the UK was able to break waste down into seven categories and increase recycling to 98% in one year. This left only 2% of waste to go to landfills, cutting down on their waste tax. In some countries, recycling can even generate a small income.
Composting is a form of recycling that involves breaking down organic waste into valuable fertilizer. The process itself reduces the amount of solid waste in your trash. If your property has a garden, the end product is a healthier and cost-effective replacement for store-bought fertilizers.
Get input from your employees
Involving your employees is crucial. They have unique insights into different areas of the business, and will have ideas of their own about how to reduce waste. For example, a waiter who serves breakfast every day will have more insight into guest behavior around food and 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.
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. The Alpina Gstaad hotel cut its food waste by 29% in just eight weeks. One of the key changes 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 many guests opting to take their leftovers home.
- Think beyond the restaurant
Minibars 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 installing one or two vending machines on every floor. This isn’t just more sustainable. It’s also an opportunity for you to show your business’ personality by stocking the vending machines with unique items.
Look at your supply chain
Once you start getting your house in order, it’s only a matter of time until you look at where your food comes from. Consider how to simplify your purchasing to make it leaner and more cost-effective. Also look at the suppliers and products you use through the lens of sustainability. Sustainable food sourcing will not only shrink your carbon footprint, but is also often associated with lower operational costs, higher-quality products, better community relations, and improved brand image.
Once you start to implement measures to cut food waste—or if you’ve already got some in place—you can communicate this to travelers through our platform.
Have you implemented any of these practices to reduce waste?
Discover our other sustainability guides:
Reducing energy consumption and using green energy
The accelerated warming of the planet—and the resulting impact on ecologies and economies—makes energy sources and efficiency the top sustainability priorities. But reducing energy consumption and switching your remaining power needs to renewable sources doesn’t just benefit the planet. It can also lower your operational costs.
Setting the environmental baseline
On the journey to sustainability, your baseline is your compass. It’s only once you measure your performance—for example, by carbon emissions or water consumption—that you can set goals and plan how to reach them.
Reducing water consumption
Fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce. That’s why we need to start cutting water consumption today – and it’s going to take more than just asking guests to reuse towels. But the environmental and financial upsides are worth the investment.