Tackling waste in the hospitality sector

By Richard Walker, Marketing Manager at Reconomy
As horrific images of plastic-choked seas and dying marine life continues to pour in, the world is starting to question its use of food and packaging. N...

As horrific images of plastic-choked seas and dying marine life continues to pour in, the world is starting to question its use of food and packaging. Now, we want to see food being used up instead of left to waste. We want to see plastic straws replaced by eco-friendly alternatives. The pressure is on for the hospitality industry to address the issues of food and packaging waste.

Over 2mn tonnes of waste is produced by the food and hospitality industry in the UK every year:

  • Hotels — produce 289,700 tonnes of waste each year, including 79,000 tonnes of food waste (9% total food waste from the sector).

  • Pubs — produce 873,800 tonnes of waste each year, including 173,000 tonnes of food waste (19% total food waste from the sector).

  • Restaurants — produce 915,400 tonnes of waste each year, including 199,100 tonnes of food waste (22% total food waste from the sector).

  • Other hospitality sectors’ food waste contributions: quick service restaurants (8.3%), staff catering (2%), leisure (7%), services (3%), healthcare (13%) and education (13%).

Of course, the issue of food waste isn’t just a UK problem. The National reported on the problem of food waste in Dubai, with the issue being particularly fuelled by hotels and restaurants wasting ingredients on over-the-top portions.

Due to a lack of storage facilities, Egypt's larger supermarkets end up wasting 20% of their produce, says Al-Monitor. The news outlet also reported that, like in Dubai, the issue of food wastage from hotels and restaurants is also particularly problematic in Egypt. Buffet-style offerings can reuse and recycle food not taken but many customers “have the habit of piling their plates”, says Egyptian Food Bank CEO, Moez El Shohdi. Anything uneaten on the plate goes in the bin.

What can the sector do to begin to deal with the issue? We asked leading skip hire and waste management experts Reconomy, to investigate the various processes that are being implemented throughout the hospitality sector to tackle waste heading to the landfill.

A new life for waste food

FareShare is a charity that works to redistribute food, recently teaming up with UK favourite, JD Wetherspoons. SHD Logistics reported on the matter, saying that the food donated by the pub chain is surplus after a recent menu shake-up or food that has had its outer cases damaged. While not problematic for the food itself, it isn’t cost-effective to make it commercial-viable again.

Less food is ending up in landfills as waste food reuse becomes increasingly popular. The Real Junk Food Project is a UK-based global movement which has set itself a goal to “abolish surplus food”. This is achieved by intercepting food waste from a variety of places, such as hotels and restaurants, and using it as ingredients to prepare and serve in its many cafés and pop-up stalls across the country. The Real Junk Food Project also runs a “Pay As You Feel” scheme – basically, you pay what you want. You can part with your money, or your time by helping as a volunteer if you want to. The aim is to make sure everyone has access to a meal, which everyone could if this usable food doesn’t go to landfill.


The project has done so well that they have opened up sharehouses to hold extra surplus stock that people are free to take for their own kitchens. Again, customers pay nothing or something, money or time.

Pay As You Feel is being used across the globe too. Over in New Zealand, Nic Loosley has opened a Pay As You Feel restaurant called Everybody Eats, where visitors can enjoy a three-course meal prepared from food headed to landfills. The food would only have gone to waste otherwise and is better used to help feed those who might not be able to enjoy a meal otherwise. According to Loosely, around a third of people do leave money for the meals.

Grow your own

Hotels and restaurants can make use of the public’s desire to support local industries by making use of local produce. Forbes has revealed some of the ways the eco-hotel and spa, Six Senses, maintains luxury with sustainability. From villas built to stay cool, to air conditioning that turns off if the doors are opened, Six Senses have thought of everything when it comes to embracing balance.

Food doesn’t come much fresher than from the garden, which is exactly where this hotel gets its ingredients. The garden is tended to without synthetic chemicals and is fed with recycled water. Any hotel or restaurant with the capacity to do so should look into planting a garden for its kitchen use, even if it is just a small herb garden – any small change can reduce the need potentially over-purchase from a supplier.

Additionally, the hotel doesn’t just serve its still and sparkling water in reusable glass bottles; the company actually treats, purifies, and mineralises its own water.

Dealing with plastic

The Planet Around You: How Hospitality Businesses Are Addressing The Sustainability Challenge is a study and report by BRITA UK. In the publication, it was noted that 70% of businesses are currently looking to cut down on single-use plastics like straws and water bottles. Plus, 64% of consumers said they would likely return to a shop with the intent of making a purchase if they could refill their water bottle.

There’s more than just plastic bottles to consider, however. USAToday highlights the steps a number of hotels are taking in an active attempt to lower the use of plastic. From the Hilton vowing to remove all plastic straws from its hotels by the end of 2018, to Marriott replacing individually offered toiletries with reusable dispensers, no one is resting on their laurels. Taking a look at airlines: United Airlines recycled 13 million pounds of plastic and other materials in 2016 and Alaska Airlines are currently in the process of replacing plastic stirring sticks with white birch stirrers. Over in the fast food sector, McDonald’s have chosen to remove plastic straws from use at their restaurants.

Would your company be able to switch to plastic-free alternatives?

According to the report’s conclusion, more than 40% of hospitality companies want more information to help become more environmentally friendly. If you are one of these businesses, get advice from firms such as Reconomy and see if you could you offer water refills or switch out plastic single-use bottles to alternatives. What can you do today to avoid leaving a mark on landfills?


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