Businesses should innovate to tackle the challenge of food waste
Ben Brakes is Environment Manager at Whitbread
The 2014 theme of this year’s Zero Waste Week was ‘one more thing’, highlighting how simple it can be for individuals to make small changes to their daily routines in order to reduce their impact on the environment by minimising landfill waste. The overarching objective was to demonstrate that changing just one habit in a daily routine or reusing ‘one more thing’ that might otherwise become an item in domestic rubbish, can make a significant impact when collective action is taken and adopted by a wide group.
To replicate simple or singular changes across businesses and even industries is a much greater and more complex task, but still an objective that can’t be ignored – especially when roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted each year  and there are still many people in the world who have insufficient food to eat.
But in business small details and innovative changes can make a big difference. In Costa we use 60kg hessian or jute sacks to transport our Rainforest Alliance coffee beans from Africa, South America and Asia, to our Roastery in London where we make our Mocha Italia Blend. Each year we receive around 125,000 of these sacks. Rather than throw them away we recycle them, converting the fibre to produce 9,000 metres of underfelt, which is used to manufacture carpet underlay that is used in our Premier Inn hotels.
A new approach or process can have a significant impact across a multi-site business dealing with different categories of waste. Costa introduced a new ‘Two Stream’ waste solution in 2012 ensuring that stores segregate their organic waste (including coffee grounds) from their dry waste (including packaging). Through Costa’s partners, the organic waste is now processed as a biomass fuel source - helping to reduce the wider environmental impact as well as providing an alternative energy source.
In the hospitality sector we need to not only change our own routines and equipment to help reduce waste, but also communicate the importance to our customers to change their consumption behaviours. Across the hospitality and catering industry, we need to help educate our customers about the benefits of why, for example, an energy efficient hand dryer might be better than using disposable hand towels or why disposing of food waste and packaging separately, is the most environmentally friendly way to do so.
Equally, it is important that any customer-facing staff can answer consumer concerns or share information on why reducing waste is important and how customers can contribute. This is important in businesses of all sizes but Whitbread has 43,000 team members in the UK and 22 million customers a month who, if well informed, can make a big difference.
One way that Costa has tried to tackle this part of the challenge was through rolling out environmental training packs and the Costa Cares Good Guide, across trial sites in the UK, with the aim of educating employees about best practice in sustainability. Each of the trial stores identified a Good Together (Whitbread’s CSR strategy) Champion for their store, who undertook training to inform and inspire their teams to save energy, waste and water whilst gaining a broader knowledge of the wider CR programme. This knowledge could then be shared with customers to help communicate the value of making small changes to support a more sustainable approach.
Large-scale food or hospitality chains have the challenge of improving their existing infrastructure and equipment across a geographically large and spread-out portfolio. This can be a costly and disruptive process with a direct impact on daily business activities. With these challenges in mind, it’s important for the industry to remember that while technical changes may require initial investment, if well planned and executed can achieve all important cost efficiencies too. This is vital in hospitality. Food waste represents a cost to the hotel sector of £318 million each year including food procurement, labour, utilities and waste management costs, or £4,000 per tonne according to resource efficiency experts WRAP.
The majority of businesses in our industry are aware they need to implement waste reduction strategies focused on food waste as well as acknowledging that they have a really positive contribution to make in this area. However the challenge can be in creating a meaningful and effective strategy focused on taking immediate action across all areas of sustainability.
At Whitbread, our waste strategy is part of a wider commitment to sustainability. It is important to ensure the long term sustainability of our company, through our Good Together CSR strategy, which Whitbread rolled out in 2009. It encompasses targets across all elements of sustainability, such as reducing water and energy consumption that are regularly and accurately measured.
Setting timed targets such as a minimum improvement on the percentage of food waste produced by a restaurant, is important but should approached in a balanced way. Targets should be set at a level that stretches but are clearly achievable. It’s also important that if targets are met or successes awarded with accreditations, then these are celebrated and shared with employees, customers and industry. Reducing waste is a collaborative effort and good practice should be shared. If those involved are more motivated they will be inclined towards achieving even more in the future.
Additionally working with the right partners can be a tremendous benefit. To increase the amount of waste our Premier Inn hotels and restaurants were diverting from landfill, we launched a new initiative working in partnership with Veolia Environmental Services to tackle the issue. In just five years we’ve made a tremendous difference and in 2014 we succeeded in diverting 92.67% of waste, up from 49% in 2009 from all hotels and restaurants.
As customers become increasingly interested and aware of sustainability, industry will need to match this increased scrutiny with its actions and focus on improving waste management and its environment record. I hope this will lead to a new approach with industry leaders becoming more collaborative and working more closely with suppliers, NGOs and industry leaders to ensure all businesses can make the greatest reduction in waste and overall positive environmental impact. By acting pre competitively, businesses will be able to join in industry-leading discussions and be a part of the group leading the hospitality and catering sector in best practice sustainability and CSR.
Source:  http://www.unep.org/wed/2013/quickfacts/circular economy food waste Responsible Business Strategy sustainable business strategy waste waste management zero waste