How to tackle the hospitality sector’s £5.1bn food and drink waste problem

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Going to waste: whether it’s food or litter, your waste has got to go somewhere but the creation of far too much waste must end
Going to waste: whether it’s food or litter, your waste has got to go somewhere but the creation of far too much waste must end

Related tags: Waste, Alcoholic beverage, Public house, Hotel, Restaurant

Waste in the world of hospitality does not simply mean a pint is knocked over once in a while – we are looking at drinks, food, rubbish and materials that often go to landfill.

Sustainability and waste are hot topics around the globe at the moment and, with food waste costing the pub sector £357m a year according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), operators need to really consider what they do with the food that are throwing away.

On the subject of food waste specifically, waste management service Filta lays out how operators can reduce the amount that gets thrown away by using a plethora of ways.

Lee Shelton of Filta, which also provides grease management systems, says: “About 3.4m tonnes of waste is disposed of in the food sector every year, according to waste prevention organisation WRAP. The pressure is, therefore, on to reduce this to meet international targets on climate change to reduce biodegradable waste going to landfill and end the global crisis that leaves millions impoverished.

“Financially, it is estimated that this staggering amount of food and drink waste equates to over £5.1bn, so environmental and ethical reasons aside, reducing waste means the potential to make significant cost savings at a time when caterers are feeling the squeeze.

“If you can take measures to bring down your food waste, using all cuts of meat, storing food in the right places to keep it fresher for longer and composting, that’s great and will help you make relatively easy cost savings. However, you do also need to consider how you are going to tackle the bi-products of your food, namely the fat, oils and grease (FOG) primarily produced in cooking. This waste is not only proving to be deadly for the environment but is costing caterers more and more money.

“Highly effective waste management has to be an integral part of any kitchen operation, to protect your reputation, the environment, your budget and your legal obligations – and the good news is there is now technology out there that can make this painless.”

Strategy in waiting

For general wastage, there is an increasing number of solutions pubs can use to their advantage, including glass recycling, setting recycling key performance indicators and reducing waste miles, according to Biffa head of corporate accounts Carl Fletcher.

He says: “The Government has also recently issued a waste and resource strategy that sets out ambitious goals for the hospitality sector in the coming years with new regulations to meet these targets, including food distribution and a food surplus hierarchy.

“Part of Biffa’s role is working collaboratively with clients to understand what the strategy means for them and how we bring some of the constituent parts to life.

“One of the key challenges in helping pubs implement these schemes is ensuring your staff and customers are united in their approach.” He adds: “Behind the scenes solutions are easier to set up but front of house is more complex. Operators have less control here, particularly in certain set-ups.

“Where table service is in place, education is key but if customers are taking drinks or food away with them, it is clearly much harder.

“Education is the single most important resource here to ensure contamination doesn’t happen and pubs could solve a lot of issues by focusing more on educating their staff and, in turn, the customer on their waste management solutions.

“If a customer is clear on what they should and shouldn’t be recycling then contamination is less likely to happen and recycling schemes will be more effectively rolled out.”

Shining example

One example of a pubco that is trying to reduce waste alongside saving its publicans money is Star Pubs & Bars.

It is offering its leased pubs the same commercial terms for recycling and waste collection that it has negotiated for its Just Add Talent managed operator pubs, which it claims saves licensees more than £1,000 a year, achieved by increasing the amount of waste that is recycled.

Star says the three-year arrangement, negotiated with Biffa, benefits all types of pub, with food-led pubs profiting most due to the increased weight related collection costs incurred from food waste.

The service includes guidance on waste management designed to reduce landfill waste and improve recycling – with data provided on levels and types of waste at each pub. Armed with this knowledge, Star Pubs & Bars can provide different bin sizes appropriate to the individual pub resulting in lower charges.

Star Pubs & Bars buying director Steve Dancer says: “The agreement we’ve negotiated is in direct response to licensees’ requests for more help reducing their overheads.

“We’re able to leverage the size and scale of our business to negotiate some great deals for licensees, passing all savings direct to them. Not enough waste is currently correctly recycled so anything we can do to reduce landfill will be good news for licensees’ bottom line and good news for the environment.”

Waste (1)

Targets set

Fellow pubco Marston’s set about a project to grow recycling rates and operate as a zero waste to landfill business by 2020, four years ago.

As part of this, all sites have been audited to ensure they were maximising recycling rates and a staff culture change campaign was also launched to help make recycling as easy as possible for sites and staff.

The campaign included producing an educational film showing what happens to waste and recycling when it leaves the pubs, alongside distributing posters and labels to aid with segregation as well as recycling league tables and competitions in a bid to drive continuous improvement.

By 2018, the recycling rate had reached 78% and Marston’s achieved its zero waste to landfill target two years ahead of schedule.

Marston’s waste and recycling coordinator Jonathan Davies says: “As a business, we recognise our responsibility to ensure our operations have a minimal impact on the environment.

“We are always looking at new ways and initiatives to develop our practice in a sustainable manner and are focused on waste reduction.”

Davies outlines how the business has removed all plastic straws, and by also ensuring paper straws are not provided by default, it has seen a waste reduction of about 75%.

It has also taken away plastic stirrers from its pubs and single-use water bottles removed from hotel rooms, saving 500,000 bottles annually.

He adds: “Marston’s is conscious of the need to utilise recycled materials and use an innovative plastic material, manufactured Plastecowood, for all paths, fencing and benches.

“Marston’s is able to purchase products made from 100% recycled plastics, which are themselves 100% recyclable. So far, the number of benches installed equates to 55 tonnes of plastic being re-used.”

Biodigester installation

Robinsons is also doing its bit to reduce waste. In 2019, Biffa recycled 2,468,640 cubic litres of cardboard and 1,605,120 cubic litres of glass from just one site.

When it comes to its hotel rooms, the operator is currently using refillable bottles for its bathroom supplies in rooms and pub toilets to reduce its plastic usage but it is also looking into a magnetic system with aluminium brackets and bottles. It has also reduced its food waste by 20%.

When it comes to individual operators, Christo Tafelli, licensee of the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub in St Albans, Hertfordshire, installed a biodigester as part of a more sustainable waste system.

He previously told The Morning Advertiser ​the system eliminates three food waste collections and about £26,000 was spent on overall waste by the site in 2018, with about a fifth (20%) of that on food waste.

Tafelli estimates installing the biodigester will save the pub about £5,000 a year. He adds: “We are in an old part of the city where there’s little room for bin lorries and we have stopped receiving two or three lorries a week. It’s great to be able to manage our own waste disposal rather than having to rely on someone else.”

Sensible swaps

Dealing with food waste is a big area operators can learn and improve on when it comes to reducing what they throw away but they can also look into other aspects of the business to cut down on garbage.

Swapping out plastic bottles in bathrooms or toilets for longer-lasting, more environmentally friendly options or simply refilling the existing ones instead of constantly buying new ones can be a small but mighty thing to reduce plastic usage.

This can not only get pubs ensuring they are improving their sustainable credibility and do their bit for the planet but with some real cost savings to be had, it can put more cash in the till too.

Related topics: Professional Services & Utilities

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