Waste not, want not – Tackling food waste in hospitality

“There are 7,5 billion people on the planet Earth. We produce food for 12 billion. We use energy, water, and human capital And then what do we do?
We burn or throw away the excess. 33% of the food production.
While one billion people around the world are food insecure.”
Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana and founder of Food for Soul

An eye-watering one-third of all the earth’s food is wasted each year. Enough for 4.5 billion people. Wasted. these numbers are shocking.

And if you are in a hospitality business, the statistics are equally as grim. In Australia:

  • 5% of commercial and industrial waste is food
    • this is equivalent to 1.388 million tonnes or 2470 Olympic swimming pools
  • 62% of waste in cafés and restaurants is food waste
  • catering and food service businesses pay between 25–37% of their total expenses on buying the food and beverages, then bin a good percentage.

Food waste has always an issue in kitchens because the commercial kitchens use a vast amount of energy, water and produce, and generate a vast output of waste. But now, with climate change snapping at our heels (and apron strings), paying attention to kitchen waste is imperative.

What is Food Waste?

Commercial food waste is created in three ways: by the kitchen, consumers, and suppliers. And often it is food that could have reused or recycled, instead of being sent to landfill. Food is thrown out because:

  1. it doesn’t look perfect
  2. parts of it were unused
  3. spoilage
  4. it was not eaten during a meal

The first three occur in the paddock and kitchen (before consumption) and the latter is at the fork. Chefs, being an inventive and creative lot who hate waste, have come up with numerous ways to tackle each stage, and create change.

So, what is to be done about commercial food waste?

1. Reimage the word ‘waste’

Chefs can change the way ‘waste’ is regarded if they change the way it is described. Leftover produce could be seen as that, leftovers. Or it could be viewed as alternative produce, repurposed into broths, ferments, pickles, shrubs, kombucha, bread puddings, croutons, offal terrines, tisanes and teas, roasted peels, and the list goes on.

One renowned chef who is creating a global worldwide movement combating food waste is Massimo Bottura. From the legendary three-starred Osteria Francescana, Bottura has created a synergy of tacking waste and feeding the hungry with his Refettorio project.

Each (of the thirteen) Refettori, are using tonnes of surplus and misshapen food, adding culinary creativity, and managing to feed the impoverished and marginalised. Sydney has its own Refettorio OzHarvest Sydney, located in Surrey Hills, but yet to open officially due to COVID.

Rodrigo Sardinha from Brazil’s Refettorio has reimaged the most wasted ingredient in Brazil, the banana peel. His ravioli with sweet banana peel filling is an example on how an otherwise ‘waste’ ingredient can be transformed. The Refettorio recipes are inspirational for their creativity and forethought.

2. Conduct a waste audit

According to RMIT’s Watch Your Waste project, only 22 per cent of food businesses monitor how much food waste they generate. Surprised? The answer should be a resounding yes, as reduction of food waste can lead to increased profits for a food service business.

One way to conduct a waste audit and contribute stats to food wastage research, is to connect with the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard. Free food wastage templates are available to download and there are lots of other valuable resources.

Unilever has launched a ‘wise up on waste’ tool kit and audit app, which allows businesses to see how much waste they produce. Once seen wastage can’t be unseen, and action can follow.

Another simple method is to DIY. All you need is to get your staff informed and on board and measure your food waste accurately. Organic food waste falls into three categories: 1)

Storage; 2) from preparation 3) from customers’ forks. Allocate and label each kitchen bin and weigh them at the end of the service. This will give a detailed picture about where food waste is going, unnecessarily.

3. Portion control

Customers like to be satisfied, but dislike food wastage. Fine dining is often seen as the biggest culprit of wastage, but their growing consumer base are the environment-minded millennials. Portion suggestions include serving a considered amount that will be eaten instead of binned; and presenting food on beautiful but not over-sized china, so the plate looks appealing, but the food is not lost.

4. Compost

There are many commercial grade composters that produce rich by-products that can be mixed with growing medium to grow fruit and vegetables in restaurant gardens, whether it be trellis, backyard, rooftop or farm. Any part of raw vegetables, stale bread, fruit skins (check your system re citrus) eggshells, coffee grounds, tea leaves and nut shells can be composted.

Neil Perry (who needs no introduction) and Matt Wiley of Re– are supporting a not-for-profit platform, Compost Connect, that links hospitality with their nearest composting plants. Heidi Bjerkan, owner and head chef at the Norway’s Credo, picked up her first Michelin star a couple of years ago, but it was her composting that earned her a new award for sustainability. Bjerkaln says that everything they grow at Credo uses soil that they produced.

5. Food recovery

Many restaurants donate leftover food to programs to help feed the homeless and those suffering food insecurity. Soup kitchens and shelters can accept food that has not expired (check with local council guidelines) and there are many organisations that make connections between kitchens and shelters that use leftover food. In Australia there are many accredited groups that receive recycled foods such as Foodbank, OzHarvest, NSW’s Your Business is Food and BusinessRecycling.

Going green in the kitchen takes time, dedication and persistence.

Remember though…Kermit the Frog once said, ‘it’s not easy being green”. But Kermit then went on to say, “I am green, and it’ll do fine. It’s beautiful, and I think it’s what I want to be.’