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Food is wasted at an alarming rate

Minimising food waste in hospitality and food service is one of the panel debate topics at this year’s RWM. Panellist Mark Linehan and chair Charlotte Henderson outline the challenges for the sector

Mark Linehan, managing director, Sustainable Restaurant Association:

Food waste is not just an environmental issue – with significant greenhouse gas emissions involved in both the production and disposal of food – but also an economic one, costing the UK food service sector £724 million each year, according to WRAP. The SRA has estimated that restaurants throw away 600,000 tonnes of food waste annually, two-thirds of which is avoidable. That’s 21 tonnes per restaurant, equivalent to the weight of two double decker buses, or 0.48kg per diner per meal - five times as much as created in the home. According to management consultancy McKinsey, it represents 8-10% of a restaurant’s total costs.

And people care about it. Recent SRA research shows that food waste is the joint most important sustainability issue, along with health and nutrition, for people when they eat out. Yet there is a gap between what restaurants think their customers care about, and this concern about food waste. Consumers also want to hear more about what restaurants are doing to ensure they are throwing away less food.

Media coverage of the food waste problem in the UK and globally has increased significantly recently, particularly in light of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ report ‘Global Food – waste not want not’. Initiatives like WRAP’s hospitality and foodservice voluntary agreement has also thrown greater light on the potential saving from reducing food waste, as well as the responsibility businesses share in addressing the problem.

There are many potential solutions such as engaging with suppliers, working with waste contractors to divert food waste from landfill and exploring opportunities to donate surplus food to charities. But the first step is to carry out rigorous research into the food waste that a business produces – when, why, how, what and how much? Then steps can be taken to make the most effective gains by reducing the amount of food that is thrown away in the first place.

The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) is a not-for-profit body that helps restaurants across the UK to be more sustainable, offering membership with account management support and a Sustainability Rating that leads to one, two or three stars. Working with over 1,300 restaurants, the SRA’s sustainability framework includes the three pillars of ‘sourcing’, ‘society’ and ‘environment’.

Under the heading of ‘environment’, the SRA has worked with many businesses – large and small, independent and chains – from across the UK to identify the amount of food waste they throw away, and to take steps to reduce it and, where unavoidable, dispose of it more responsibly.

Charlotte Henderson, Programme Area Manager, Hospitality and Food Service at WRAP:

It is vital that the hospitality and food service sector throws less food away, and the facts speak for themselves:

  • Roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption does not reach a human stomach - this is equivalent to around 1.3 billion tonnes each year
  • In the UK alone, over 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away each year
  • £720 million is the cost of the food waste thrown away by pubs, restaurants and hotels each year in the UK
  • The cost of food being thrown away is only going to increase, with factors such as food price inflation, global population growth and the impact of climate change on crop productivity

To tackle this food waste we need to first of all admit responsibility, and then look at ways to accurately measure waste and understand where, as well as why, it is arising in the kitchen. Is it from spoilage, preparation or plate waste? What is the cost of the food being wasted?What is the cost to your business?  Priorities can then be identified and plans drawn up with timescales for action to be taken to reduce it, for example by offering different portion sizes.

There are lots of useful tips and tools to help, from the WRAP Online Resource Centre, to the Unilever app and Nestle’s recently launched training resources.

In some instances a collaborative approach, bringing together knowledge and expertise from across the chain is needed. This is one of the reasons why the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement was established last year and currently has 157 organisations signed up to it. Visit the WRAP website to find out more about how you can sign up to the Agreement and be part of this group of industry leaders reducing waste, increasing recycling rates and saving your business money.

Let me hold my hands up and say that every day I used to throw money in the bin by feeding it with food that could have been eaten. I have stepped up to the challenge, I am changing my habits and doing things differently. Can you?

Charlotte Henderson and Mark Linehan will be joined in the Commerce and Industry Theatre by Ian Booth, technical director at Reynolds Catering; Sean Twohig, group risk safety and environment manager at Jury’s Inn; and Vance Fairman-Smith, head of supply chain at Spirit Pub Company. The session will be held on 10 September at 1pm in the Commerce and Industry Theatre.

Other food waste related seminars at RWM:

  • Tristram Stuart, writer and campaigner, won international environmental award, The Sophie Prize 2011, for his fight against food waste. He will talk on ‘Food waste – the scale of the problem and what we should do about it’ in the Leaders Arena on 12 September at 12 noon.
  • Food waste - whose problem is it and how can we reduce it? Alice Ellison, environmental policy advisor at British Retail Consortium; Jim Trower, founder of Orbis International, Toine Timmermans from Wageningen University and Research Centre and Andrew Parry head of food and drink at WRAP will discuss this in the Commerce and Industry Theatre, 11 September at 12 noon.
  • Dr Anne Roulin, head of packaging at Nestlé will cover Nestlé’s journey to Zero Waste – challenges and opportunities for reducing waste across the value chain in the Commerce and Industry Theatre on 10 September at 11.30 am.
  • Rosie Boycott, Chair of the London Food Board is a special guest speaker in the Commerce and Industry Theatre on 10 September at 11.00 am.

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