Waste Not..:Focus on waste managment

10/08/2017 - 11:50
Kitchen waste is a massive and costly problem that needs to be addressed if you want to put a stop to throwing money in the bin. Kathy Bowry reports.

Organic food waste from commercial kitchens is responsible for many operator headaches across the sector. However, it’s possible to allay the pain by developing a workable strategy to deal with the problem at source and investing in some innovative equipment and services.

Matt White, chair of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) and director of catering, hotel and conference services at the University of Reading, has some shocking statistics that have forced his members to develop some effective remedies to cut waste volumes.

He says: “We have in education 920,000t of food being thrown away a year, of which a staggering 75% is avoidable. This costs the education sector an average £250 million a year.”

TUCO members, however, have grasped the nettle of change and White cites the University of Wolverhampton as an example.

“The university has introduced an organic waste logistics system which has helped the university reduce its carbon footprint by collecting all the refuse and sending it to an anaerobic digestion plant, where it is converted into energy and organic fertiliser,” he says.

“The university has also seen a significant improvement in hygiene levels, as it has an odourless solution to waste disposal, and rubbish is no longer left to collect throughout the week.”

Another academic institution implementing change is the University of Manchester, where, White says, the team has developed an award-winning food waste-reduction scheme.

“The initiative was introduced after the university discovered that 88% of its catered students would use facilities to recycle their leftovers if they were made readily available,” he says.

“In response to this, they have introduced a food waste-only recycling system that produces gas for energy and fertiliser for crops by treating the leftover food.”

White says the catering department also saw a significant improvement in waste levels after removing canteen trays and giving students the choice between a variety of portion sizes. This resulted in an average weekly waste reduction of 27%.

“It’s great to see that sustainable practices are becoming more commonplace for an increasing number of catering outlets within the foodservice industry,” he adds.

However, White accepts “there is still a long way to go in terms of tackling the problems surrounding waste”.

“As an industry, we need to work together to minimise our carbon footprint by sourcing produce locally, providing sustainable menu options and educating staff on how to manage resources effectively, for example,” he says.

Steve Witt, managing director at IMC, which supplies a range of waste management systems, from “simple and extremely cost-effective” food waste disposers to the dewatering, self-cleaning Waste Station and Waste Pro II, believes the best way to manage food waste is to treat it at source.

“Food waste management is at its most effective when the management and kitchen operators sign up to the same goal,” he says.

“At IMC we find that where management deploys processes and systems to control waste streams, but fails to explain them to those members of staff expected to implement them on a daily basis, the system is less effective, due to a lack of ownership.”

However, he says, if a ‘system champion’ is nominated within the business, to drive the initiative and ensure waste recycling targets are achieved, they are often not just met but exceeded.

Witt adds: “The industry is still missing a trick here, though – there would be a much greater focus on waste management if operators knew exactly how much they could save.

“Look at the government push on waste management in Scotland, for example. There, food waste is deemed a valuable resource or fuel, which can be used to generate energy, and the focus is on collecting it rather than disposing of it down the drain.

“If this principle was rolled out across the entire UK foodservice industry then the volume of untreated waste that needed to be collected would make the process very expensive.

“But,” he continues, “if operators implemented a waste management system – employing a dewatering system that reduces the volume of kerbside collection, for instance – this would cut the cost dramatically and offer the best of both worlds.”

And there are other ways to manage waste too, he says, of which the most important is not over-purchasing.

“Review which departments are creating the waste in the first place and when. Once you have this information you can start planning a waste- reduction programme,” he says.

Planglow is an environmental packaging and labelling software provider, and its marketing director, Rachael Sawtell, says that, where space allows, introducing a composter and growing produce on-site can be an excellent way for caterers to become more sustainable year-on-year.

“It also allows them to reduce the costs associated with waste – such as landfill taxes,” she says.

Meanwhile, the company has recently partnered with a provider of on-site composting units to support those caterers that do not have appropriate facilities in their area and are looking to take matters into their own hands, plus it has also established its own “‘food-to-field’ initiative to partner food providers with eco waste services in their area”.

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