Food for thought: time to trim the waste line

It’s often said that too much food can damage your figure. So here are some damaging figures that could ruin your appetite. Globally, a third of all food that’s produced is wasted. That food waste is responsible for more than 173tn litres of wasted water.

If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas. In the UK, 10m tonnes of food – responsible for 6.2b litres of wasted water and 20m tonnes of CO2 – is wasted every year. Feel full yet? It’s time to trim the waste line.

In England, around a quarter of all waste is generated by commercial and industrial (C&I) businesses. The hospitality and food sectors, including hotels and restaurants, are major contributors. But businesses such as food manufacturers, retailers and even healthcare providers all add considerable weight to a burgeoning fatberg of waste. And much of it is avoidable. In hospitals, for example, 121,000 tonnes of food is thrown away each year and 75% of it could have been eaten. Food waste costs the NHS around £230m each year. Let that sink in. 

Yet these mountains of C&I food waste could easily be reduced with a more holistic approach to waste management. In many businesses, tendering processes for waste management solutions typically focus on disposal costs, benchmarking providers on a crude metric of ‘price-per-lift’. Yet the true cost of waste is not restricted to the price of taking it away – it’s often buried in processes and practices within a business that create waste in the first place. By tweaking those processes and adopting better behaviours, the volume of waste companies generate can dramatically fall. This naturally leads to a reduction in disposal costs and, more importantly, significant operational costs savings earlier on in the food chain.

The numbers back up the story. Let’s count the calories. WRAP (Waste and Resource Action Programme) estimates that food waste costs the restaurant industry more than £680m each year. There are multiple factors that drive it; over-buying stock, incorrect food storage, poor stock rotation, inadequate temperature control, inadequate labelling and poor portion control. And many more. According to WRAP, 21% of food waste is due to spoilage, 45% is plate waste and 34% is generated in food preparation. Moreover, 52% of food waste costs are incurred in purchasing, 37.5% in labour and 7.5% are in utilities (energy, water and transport). Crucially, just 3.5% of the cost of food waste is the price of disposal.

All of which leads to a crucial question: if disposal accounts for just 3.5% of the cost of food waste, why does the procurement of waste management solutions in so many businesses focus so heavily on it? The fixation on price-per-lift is the wrong metric.

The smartest waste management providers will take a more holistic view of your business and identify the wasteful practices that fuel avoidable waste. They will literally lift the lid of your bins and work with you to understand what’s in there and where it’s coming from. What processes in your kitchen, restaurant or service areas are helping to generate that waste? Is food being prepared and not served? Are ingredients being purchased and discarded? Is food being plated but not eaten? Is there a discernible pattern that can be identified and rectified to prevent avoidable waste? 

The impact on waste disposal costs can be significant. If 75% of wasted food could have been eaten, then as much as 75% of the bins you pay to be collected and emptied could easily disappear. And the price of the lift disappears with them. It’s a huge gain and a potential engine for business growth. But it’s only possible if you’re prepared to rethink waste management and work with a partner that focuses not on the cost of disposal, but on the true cost of the waste that’s hidden within your business. It’s food for thought.

Perhaps it’s time to shed a few pounds. Let’s trim the waste line.


Stephen Cameron is Business Development Director for SWRnewstar





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