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Food waste management in the tourism industry

Published 1 September 2022

Food waste is about so more than just leftovers when it comes to tourism, hospitality and beyond


Solving the food waste challenge is a must, for a more profitable and resilient hospitality business. Food waste is a troubling issue in today’s world. While statistically significant, it doesn’t get the same coverage as more prominent environmental problems that make the headlines, such as habitat loss, extinction and large carbon footprints. The fact that food waste is overshadowed by these issues has also led to a lack of research into the matter.

But the reality of the world’s food waste problem is staggering. Statistics compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report that one-third of all food produced globally is wasted – the equivalent of 1.3 billion tonnes a year. estimates that the hospitality and food service industry creates 18% of all annual food waste, and a study found that a hotel in Bangkok wasted an astonishing 1.3 tons of edible food in a single week.

The implications of food waste in tourism and hospitality

Food waste takes many forms. There are two types of food waste: edible and inedible. Edible food waste refers to anything that was fit for human consumption before it was either discarded or became stale or out of date. Edible food waste can often be used for animal feed, or otherwise can be composted. Inedible food waste refers to the parts of food products that regardless of its state cannot be eaten, such as eggshells, bones and some fruit/vegetable peel. Tourism and hospitality businesses must find ways to safely and responsibly dispose of, or far better, reuse, this food waste.

So what’s the problem with wasted food? Doesn’t it just biodegrade? Well, it’s not that simple. Food is wasted at all points in the supply chain – in the cultivation stage, in transportation, in storage, in preparation and by the final supplier or consumer. And it’s not just the food that is wasted. Food that is transported and then not eaten also results in wasted emissions: the fuel used to deliver the food to its destination and the energy consumed for refrigeration. When sent to landfill, wasted food produces methane – a greenhouse gas that is even more potent than carbon dioxide – meaning that the environmental impacts of food wastage are manifold.

Another factor to keep in mind when thinking about food waste is the financial implications. Drilling down on your efforts to reduce food wastage is not only good for the planet, but good for your budget, too. While tourists might be paying more than cost price for their serving at the buffet breakfast, the less food wasted each morning, the fewer ingredients you need to fork out for.

Then there’s the social implication of food waste. Action Against Hunger, an organisation committed to tackling food poverty around the world, state that at the time of writing, 828 million people – almost 1 in 10 – don’t have enough to eat. When this many people are suffering from hunger or even starvation, the problem of food waste becomes a moral, human problem – not ‘just’ an environmental one.


10 steps to fighting food waste in tourism

While it’s clear that food waste is a problem in society and in business that needs solving, it can feel like an overwhelming task. There’s no universal rule book for food waste management in tourism and hospitality, as food service varies by business. However, it’s a good idea to ask how other businesses tackle this problem to inspire your own approach.

The first step to reducing your food waste is to gain an accurate understanding of the extent of the problem. Measuring your waste by tracking the number and weights of wasted whole ingredients, as well as the weight of unfinished food from customers’ (and on-site employees’) plates and recording it in a regularly maintained database is a great way to deduce the reality of food waste in your business. This can also help you calculate how much money is wasted on food that isn’t eaten. Regularly updating these metrics and comparing the data can help you track your progress once you implement measures to reduce food wastage.

Once you have an accurate view of the amount of food that is wasted, it’s time to take measures to tackle those numbers.

Here are 10 simple ways to reduce food wastage in your business:

  1. Provide smaller plates at buffets to deter guests from overestimating how much they need
  2. Introduce composting schemes, encouraging on-site employees to compost waste to use in your garden or send to composting hubs
  3. Freeze fruit that is starting to go soft or bruised to use in smoothies or coulis
  4. Provide compostable or recyclable containers for guests to take their leftovers away in
  5. Raise awareness and educate employees on the importance of avoiding waste in the kitchen
  6. Donate excess edible food waste to farms to use as animal feed
  7. Keep an inventory of your food stock with best before dates and rotate stock accordingly
  8. Track the popularity of menu items and consider removing or substituting less popular options to avoid overstocking ingredients
  9. Offer a kid-size option to prevent leftovers when serving children
  10. Use airtight containers to prevent food from going stale or mouldy for longer and label with the date it was prepared and the date it can be kept until

Reducing food packaging waste

It’s not just the food that contributes to waste in your kitchens. Packaging is another element that needs to be considered to have a holistic and effective waste management system. It’s essential to separate different materials – plastic, paper, glass, card, etc. – for proper recycling. It’s also important to wash containers and packaging if contaminated with food before they are put in the recycling bins, too.

There are ways to reduce the amount of packaging that gets discarded in the process of providing food and beverage services to your customers. Buy in bulk to reduce the amount of plastic waste you generate. You can also shop at zero-waste/refill stores, where you can refill your own containers with loose ingredients or use paper bags that can be reused and recycled when they are empty. You can find these kinds of grocery stores both online and on some high streets. Buy vegetables loose from local markets, greengrocers or farm shops, rather than from wholesale companies, to reduce unnecessary plastic waste. Engage suppliers on providing goods in reusable containers and biodegradable packaging. This can be a tricky one as the right packaging reduces food waste by protecting the food. Find the balance between sustainable packaging and reducing damage to food.

How Weeva can help lodges, hotels and resorts reduce food waste

Weeva has created an entire parameter to help businesses with their waste management, entitled Zero Waste. In addition, the parameter Sustainable and Ethical Procurement covers all sustainable food- related matters, including food waste. We can help you educate your staff on food waste management and reducing food waste with awareness exercises and tasks that help you track the extent of the problem and implement practical, effective measures to make a positive impact. The tasks and activities include tips for how you can make waste management part of the daily running of your business, as well as how you can engage and educate your customers and the local community to support your efforts. With instructions on how to make a difference and who should be involved in the running of your waste management programme, Weeva sets out a clear plan for making excessive food waste a thing of the past.

What are you waiting for? Come on. Be more Weeva!

Like what you have read?

Watch this Waterbear video to see how two chefs are reducing food waste at their restaurants.

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