Technology that reduces food waste and drives behavioural change should be welcomed, writes Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood.
Earlier this year saw the launch of the World’s first AI-powered bin, designed to help restaurants take decisive action on food waste. Developed by UK technology start-up Winnow Vision, the bin uses a smart camera and scales to keep track of what types of food are regularly being thrown away.
The technology used by the ‘smart’ bin enables it to capture a huge amount of data, calculating the financial cost of food waste and identifying disposal trends. This, in turn, can be used by restaurant managers to make informed decisions about how to curb their food waste, such as encouraging behavioural change from kitchen staff, changing menu choices, reducing portion sizes or removing plate garnishes.
So far, it seems that the technology is actually very effective, with the company suggesting that installations have already saved more than $30 million in food waste. The AI-bins have already been successfully trialled at 23 Ikea stores in the UK and Ireland, as well as at a number of hotel restaurants around the world.
But is this just another technology gimmick? Can using data in this way really drive the behaviour change that is needed to tackle the huge food waste problem in the hospitality sector?
Personally, I believe anything that reduces food waste and drives behavioural change in commercial kitchens should be welcomed. According to research from WRAP, the catering and hospitality sector produces more than 600,000 tonnes of avoidable food waste every year. Alongside the environmental damage and waste of valuable resources, this also has a dramatic impact on profitability.
According to research from WRAP, the catering and hospitality sector produces more than 600,000 tonnes of avoidable food waste every year. Alongside the environmental damage and waste of valuable resources, this also has a dramatic impact on profitability.
In fact, food waste comes at a cost of around £2.5 billion per annum to the UK’s pubs, restaurants and food service outlets. In practice, this means that the average restaurant is losing almost £20,000 every year as a direct result of poor food waste management.
It is clear, therefore, that the scale of the problem requires a fundamental change in approach and technology may well be the catalyst to help with this radical shift. At ReFood, we’re using visionary thinking and processes to tackle the problem. We’re on a mission to reduce food waste and want to help businesses cut waste as much as possible, whether that be through the use of technology, better menu planning, or employee education. At the same time, we also want to see a different approach to food waste recycling.
Since launching Vision 2020 (our roadmap to eliminate the landfilling of food waste), we’ve continued to lobby for legislative changes and promote the benefits of separate food waste collection. Throwing food away is a travesty, when there are so many beneficial alternatives for such a valuable resource, including redistribution schemes, animal feed, and recycling. Landfilling should always be the last resort.
Technology is proving to be a vital weapon in reducing the amount of food that is thrown away and industry is ripe for innovation. As well as AI-bins, businesses are also using detailed logistics algorithms to identify and redistribute surplus food to those in need, as well as apps to offer fresh, unsold meals at a lower price. In total, more than $125 million of venture capital and private equity funding was invested in US food waste start-ups in 2018.
Digital technology is helping to become an enabler to less waste, particularly with a technology savvy ‘Blue Planet’ generation, who are more concerned about their impact on the environment and will welcome ‘smart’ appliances and software to help them do this.
But there will always be food waste that technology can’t eliminate. What about the shells, bones, gristle and out-of-date food that inevitably arise from a commercial kitchen? At ReFood, we firmly believe that food waste recycling is a much more environmentally friendly alternative to landfill. By recycling waste at our three state of the art anaerobic digestion (AD) plants in the UK, rather than throwing it away, we can generate renewable energy and bio-fertiliser which offsets the generation of harmful greenhouse gases. Using a dedicated food waste collection and recycling service, like ours, can also help businesses deliver significant savings, cutting waste costs by more than 50%.
It’s clear that innovation in food waste technology has the potential to drive a wider cultural change in the way that people value food. However, as well as embracing new intelligent technology that can help to cut avoidable food waste, businesses in the UK also need to take a smart approach to food waste disposal, using food waste recycling services and maximising the value of this valuable resource, rather than sending it to landfill.