04 Nov

How to reduce food waste in restaurants?

Food waste is becoming an issue that cannot be ignored by any company in the food sector. What could shows this better that the “No Food To Waste” conference organized in Budapest a few weeks ago, where Tesco signed a strategic partnership agreement with the Central European Foodbank representatives, and committed to work with national governments and charities so that by 2020 all Tesco stores in central Europe will offer food surplus to local charities.

While we’re happy that retailers work hard to reduce their food waste, we were particularly interested in the opinion of Mr. Peter Skelton from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) about how the food service sector could to do their part.

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What does WRAP do?

We work with retailers, manufacturers, suppliers, and food service organizations. We separate food waste (eaten outside of home) and consumer food waste (eaten at home). We don’t look at the social aspects of food waste so much, but we’re more focused on the environmental effects: on the climate and water for example.

We work with hospitality and food industry partners to reduce their food waste, and the food waste of their customers. Decreasing it is good for their operation obviously: they can save money. But measuring food waste can be hard, particularly when they have a franchise model, or when they have a restaurant or café inside another organization. We encourage them to report their data every year. This includes their operational waste, so the waste they physically send for recycling or collection. We don’t measure what goes down the sink, which is a weakness, but we will try to include it later on.

I think that the hospitality sector is less advanced than the retailers in terms of understanding and measuring their food waste, and the resources they put into decreasing it. But they want to learn from retailers. In the UK, food waste generated in restaurants in about 9%. Most of it comes from households (70%), and processing. Retail also only accounts for about 2% of all.

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How do you help restaurants in their efforts to reduce food waste?

We look at their processes, training methods, and their facilities. All these can play a part in preventing food waste. There will always be some food waste though, so the next step is to make sure how that goes through the waste hierarchy: (1) can it be fed to humans (2) or animals, (3) can it be composted (4) or used for biogas.

We encourage them to work on reducing their own waste, but also help with their customers’ waste. This part is trickier. If you’re a café, hotel or restaurant, people come to enjoy your food, and they are paying for it – it’s a treat! So most of them don’t want to think about what happens with the two potatoes they leave on the plate. The more progressive organizations are looking at how they can offer different portion sizes: my mother, child, teenager and me have different needs. These can have different pricing structures. This would be a positive thing.

Are doggy bags wide spread in the UK?

No. It might be getting more wide spread nowadays, and often if you ask people, they will take it; but they don’t make a big effort in getting their leftovers wrapped up.

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How do restaurants measure food waste? Do they differentiate between for example carrot peels and the consumers’ leftovers?

We differentiate between where the food waste is going: anaerobic digestion, composting, biogas treatment. We ask them to record what they are sending for animal feed, and charitable redistribution.

So, we ask about the destination of their waste, not so much the composition of it. We encourage them to measure if their food waste in avoidable, unavoidable or potentially avoidable. Take potato skins for example: some recipes use it and you eat it, for other meals you peel it off. But what they report to us is only the destination.

In Scotland restaurants are obliged to collect their food waste separately by law, but not currently in England or Wales. Most of them are doing it, even though they are not legally obliged to.

How do you motivate restauranteurs to pay attention to this issue?

It’s a big cost reducer: every ton of food waste generated in the food industry costs about 3000 pounds (-4000 Euros). It’s not only the cost of the food, but the cost of cooking it, preparing it, etc. If they know how much they generate, then they’ll know how to tackle it. I think it’s a big issue and entrepreneurs who are aware of it really support the reduction.

So it’s partly about the cost, but it’s also about pressure. There is a lot of pressure in the moment in the UK from TV, newspapers, NGOs.

I think some customers and organizations are requiring companies to pay attention to food waste. I don’t think most people are very conscious yet, but their number is growing. Just like what happens with the retailers: Tesco and Sainsbury publicly report their food waste, and others will follow. I think the hospitality sector will follow, too.

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What do you think about “outsourcing” food waste? Should restaurants buy peeled vegetables, for example?

Consumers are also buying peeled veggies from the stores, and some restaurants so as well. There are arguments both ways: if the veggies are prepared in one location and the waste arises in one place, than it’s much easier to address it. If it arises in lots of little cafes, it’s harder.

It’s about preventing you and your customers’ waste. As a restaurant, you have a responsibility to look beyond your own operations.

Thank you for the interview!