Topic 3 Reducing food waste

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) outlined 13 initiatives that companies could take to make headway towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals target of halving food waste by 2030. Among them, some are bold written as they can be addressed to the catering sector:

  1. Help educate farmers to reduce food loss due to pests, diseases and weeds.
  2. Change packaging and promotions to reduce waste, such as UK supermarket Tesco’s Buy One Get One Free-Later promotion that allows customers to pick up free food when they can actually eat it on time.
  3. Train employees to better manage food inventory to reduce waste.
  4. Add information to packaging that informs customers about the importance of recycling or reusing food.
  5. Improve “cold chain” infrastructures that allow food to be stored in temperature-controlled environments throughout the process from farm to table.
  6. Adapt large-scale food-production techniques to small-scale agriculture, such as providing solar-powered refrigerators to farmers in South Asia and East Africa.
  7. Change how unsaleable food is handled so it can still be used either as a donation or as a material for cosmetics, biofuels or animal food.
  8. Increase local sourcing of food and ingredients.
  9. Set goals for reducing food waste and tracking performance against them.
  10. Increase private and public collaboration to assess how much consumers and retailers are likely to need a given food item.
  11. Write contracts to reduce food waste, such as making sure contracts between retailers and farmers don’t encourage overproduction.
  12. Encourage the standardization of the sale dates for food, which often confuses the customers.
  13. Encourage laws that make donating food easier and discarding food more costly.

BCG estimates that these initiatives will also be good for the businesses that adopt them. Overall, they would reduce food waste by $700 billion a year.

The exact amount of food wasted by the tourism and hospitality sectors is unknown, but it is estimated that hotels, restaurants and catering services are responsible for about 14% of the total food wasted in the European Union.

In absolute terms, 14% represents about 12 million tons of food wasted each year, or between 12 and 28kg of food wasted per capita per annum in the 27 EU Member States.The food service industry wastes more food than the wholesale, retail and production sectors, respectively.

Food waste represents 46% of the total waste produced in US hotels. According to a more recent estimate, restaurants generate 33% of the total food waste in the US, while a study regarding waste in a hotel in Bangkok demonstrates an astonishing 1.3 ton of edible food wasted in one single week.

It is currently not known, however, which fraction of the hospitality-generated food waste is caused by tourism. One reason for this information not being available is that tourism-related food consumption and its environmental implications have not been extensively researched to date.

What is known, in a global way, is that tourists consume more food than they would at home and eat more imported food than at home, thus increasing the tourism-related environmental impact on the destinations. Given that food consumption is a key tourist experience, it is likely that tourists try different types of food and do not like some of them, which leads to more food waste than at home.