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Leftovers are good to go

Asking for a doggy bag in a restaurant is embarrassing for UK diners, according to WRAP, but this could be about to change thanks to a bit of careful advertising. Katie Coyne reports on a Scottish pilot scheme

“Shhhhh! No! Don’t! They won’t do it anyway! Don’t embarrass me!” These are the sorts of things you might imagine a fellow diner would say to persuade you not to ask the waiter for a doggy bag. The British don’t feel comfortable asking for their leftovers to take home.

But Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) is piloting a project to see whether doggy bags could tackle the 920,000 tonnes of food wasted across the UK hospitality and food service sector every year.

And according to WRAP, whose figures these are, a staggering 75% is avoidable, as the food could have been eaten. In fact, the cost of food waste across the UK in this sector is around £2.5bn, which is expected to hit £3bn by 2016.

The ‘Good to Go’ pilot scheme involves 11 Scottish outlets - including takeaways and pubs to more upmarket restaurants - and aims to make it acceptable to ask to take leftovers home.

Posters and logos are being deployed to encourage customers to ask for a doggy bag. Staff have been trained so that they can sensitively respond to diners who enquire about doggy bags. But while there are common logos and posters, the approach that each outlet takes – whether it first broaches the subject with diners, for example – is up to the individual outlet so it can be tailored to its needs.

But would diners just take the food home and dump it in the household waste stream? This is one of the things the pilot will be looking at: where the leftovers do end up. Food waste from the participating food outlets will be weighed and analysed before, during, and after the pilot. ZWS is also working alongside a research consultancy that will interview diners to ask what they did with their take home food.

Previous WRAP research found that when people eat out as a treat, they stop thinking about food waste and, if they do think about it, they see it as out of their control. Most people cited large portion sizes - something that they had no control over - as a reason why they left food.

The doggy bag idea is about raising awareness and changing attitudes. And as Iain Gulland, ZWS director, explained: “Research suggests that people would like a doggy bag but feel too embarrassed to ask. Some of the restaurants said ‘yes’ we would do this [provide a doggy bag] if a customer asked. But there’s nothing on the menu saying so.”

Gulland points out that while evaluating the scheme will initially cost “a chunk of cash”, it will not be expensive for food outlets to replicate once it has been proven. Table toppers, menus and posters do not cost a huge amount to print, yet the food waste saved could potentially net restaurants a huge saving in their waste bills.

This is particularly the case in Scotland, where the Waste Regulations that came into effect this year require businesses producing over 50kg of food waste a week, to present it for separate collections. By 2016, this will be reduced to just 5kg of food waste per week.

The results will be published in the summer. The pilot is said to be going well, with a number of food outlets approaching ZWS to see if they can take part. So it could well be an idea that is good to go.

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