Is it time to reboot the restaurant recycling ethos?

Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, explains why now is the perfect time for hospitality businesses to embrace food waste recycling.

With lockdown restrictions easing and restaurants across the UK set to once again open their doors to the public, the hospitality industry is anticipating a much-needed resurgence. But with overheads tight, savvy operators should be looking at effective ways to cut unnecessary costs.

This is where managing food waste comes in – reducing operational expenses while improving your establishment’s reputation in one fell swoop.

With research from the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) suggesting that patrons are more likely to frequent an ethically-conscious establishment, stepping up sustainability can also drive increased footfall.

With so many restaurants, pubs and cafes reduced to offering either a takeaway service or completely shutting in recent months, now could be the perfect time to take a fresh look at operations. In our experience, one of the blind spots of many restaurateurs is the way they deal with peelings, plate scrapings and spoiled produce.

Too many businesses simply throw it straight in the bin, when it could be used to generate renewable energy instead.

Zero waste to landfill?

According to insight from New Food Waste Horizons, a pioneering research report analysing the UK’s progress towards zero food waste to landfill, the hospitality and food services industry wastes more than £3 billion per annum by needlessly throwing away perfectly edible produce.

But while a significant drain on profits, the environmental implications of this behaviour are even more concerning. In fact, food waste that decomposes in landfill is said to release greenhouse gases 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

However, by reviewing processes and approaching food waste from the top down, restaurants can minimise their reliance on landfill and slash waste management costs.

What’s more, with research from the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) suggesting that patrons are more likely to frequent an ethically-conscious establishment, stepping up sustainability can also drive increased footfall.

Tackling food waste

When it comes to unnecessary waste, there are a number of repeat offenders in the hospitality industry – both before and after food is served. The first step to managing waste is understanding which apply to your business – this makes it simple and achievable to implement counteractive processes.

  • Poor inventory practices – Do you find that food sits for a long time in storage, often resulting in staff throwing away out of date items? If so, you may be over-ordering. To combat this, it’s essential to keep an up-to-date inventory and regularly audit how much food you’re serving on a daily and weekly basis.
  • Sub-standard organisation – Do you regularly find old items at the back of the fridge, many of which have to be thrown out? If so, your stock organisation system isn’t working as it should. If you haven’t already, try implementing a first in, first out system.
  • Short shelf life – Are perishables turning before you’ve had a chance to use them? If so, audit your storage systems to ensure they’re up to scratch. Wasting food before it’s even cooked is simply unnecessary.
  • Overflowing kitchen bins – Are your kitchen bins overflowing with off-cuts, peelings and leftovers? If so, you should task your chef with transforming excess ingredients into soups, sauces and stocks.
  • Large portion sizes – Do you find that your portion sizes are often too big for customers to finish? While supersizing may impress a minority, most patrons will waste a huge amount of excess. Try cutting out garnishes, reducing carbohydrates and offering more add-on side dishes.
  • Unpopular items – While some restaurants pride themselves on the length of their menu, this practice tends to result in extensive inventories, cooking from frozen and dishes failing to meet expectations. Try halving your menu size and prioritising local delicacies.
  • Promoting doggie bags – Do you keep a variety of disposable containers on hand and encourage patrons to take leftovers home with them? If you don’t, their plate scrapings will end up in your kitchen bins – costing you more money!

With an estimated 60% of food binned by hospitality businesses considered perfectly avoidable, a few small changes can have an immediate and measurable impact on both the bottom line and sustainability credentials.

The remaining 40%, however, comprises unavoidable fractions such as bones, gristle and shells. While inedible, it’s important to ensure that unavoidable waste isn’t simply landfilled. Alongside generating harmful greenhouse gases, this wastes a highly valuable resource.

Although not the silver bullet solution, food waste recycling is a highly sustainable and cost effective solution for unavoidable waste. Efficient and environmentally-friendly, food waste recycling harnesses the value in unavoidable waste, while also diverting it away from landfill. As well as being a highly environmental option, recycling food waste can also cut waste management costs by more than 50%.

Turn waste into energy 

At ReFood, we collect unavoidable food waste from hospitality businesses across the UK, recycling it into renewable resources via anaerobic digestion (AD). This process harnesses the natural degradation of food by capturing the biogas produced and using it to generate heat and renewable energy – both electricity and gas – which are sent directly to the National Grid.

Meanwhile, the resulting residue can be used as a sustainable fertiliser; enabling beneficial nutrients to be retained and reinvested right back to the beginning of the food chain.

ReFood makes sustainability simple. Our innovative ‘bin swap’ service see full bins replaced with sanitised ones after every collection, meaning they can be used in kitchen areas. This removes any worries about ‘smelly’ waste or bin cleaning and ensures the service is completely sanitary.

All types of food – be it preparation waste, scraps and even packaged products – can be thrown in the bins, making it straightforward for businesses to implement.

There are huge financial benefits possible by considering waste at every stage of food management and the case for a change in attitude is incredibly strong. With significant improvements possible with just small process improvements, the sector is in a prime position to benefit.

It’s a win:win for both hard pressed pubs, restaurants and caterers – and the environment. Businesses can save a significant amount of money, while reducing waste. As we emerge from lockdown, it could be that food waste really can bring the ‘Midas touch’ to the catering trade.

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