Reducing and Managing Food Waste in Hotels

Food Waste by Hipsxxheart, on Flickr

Food Waste by Hipsxxheart, on Flickr

Our latest Know How Guide has been developed in collaboration with Considerate Hoteliers to help hoteliers and chefs understand how to manage and reduce food waste in hotels - what is the issue, how should it be addressed and what resources are on offer

This guide has been produced by the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) in collaboration with Considerate Hoteliers. The article draws on resources from organisations like WRAP that are available for the hospitality industry, with additional statistics and information on waste management separately referenced. It is designed for use by Corporate Responsibility and Environment Managers and Chefs. You can read the guide here on the site, or download it here.

What's the problem with food waste?

  • 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[1]
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa[2]
  • 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat[3]
  • When food rots it creates methane (CH4) which has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide[4]
  • If food waste was a country, it would be the world’s 3rd largest emitter of CO2[5]
  • Every time food is wasted, the water, energy, time, manpower, land, fertilizer, fuel, packaging and MONEY put into growing, preparing, storing, transporting, cooking the food is wasted. This great video captures it perfectly

In short; reducing food waste helps you stop wasting money and a host of other resources. Here is an estimation of the carbon emissions created by common foods;

Source: GE Data Visualisation

Source: GE Data Visualisation

Food waste statistics

In the UK, 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.

The average cost of avoidable food waste to a hotel business is £0.52 (approx. $0.85) per meal in the UK. Multiply this by the number of covers to give you an idea of how much money you could help your business, and the industry, save

Estimated annual statistics show that UK hotels:

  • Produce 289,700 tonnes of waste each year, including 79,000 tonnes of food waste
  • Produce 9% of the total food waste across the hospitality and food service sector in the UK
  • Only 43% of all waste is recycled[6].

Statistics are similar in other countries. In Ireland, of the 750,000 tonnes of organic waste generated each year by businesses, over 350,000 comes from commercial businesses (e.g. food retail, hotels, food wholesale, restaurants, etc.) It has been estimated that each tonne of food waste in Ireland can cost between €2,000 – €5,000 – sometimes less, often times more.[7]

In the US, 68m tonnes of food waste are produced each year, with around 39.7m tonnes going to landfill or incineration. One third of this is from full and quick service (QSR) restaurants[8].

Why take action?

By taking a few simple steps to waste less and recycle more, and by working out the cost of food waste to the business, hotels can reap financial as well as environmental benefits. Read on and find out more.

Where is waste generated?

Hotels often say they waste very little food as the plates generally come back clean.  However, food waste comes from a variety of sources;Food waste in hotels

  • Spoiled or out of date food
  • Peelings & trimmings
  • Inedible by-products, e.g. bones, coffee grounds, tea leaves
  • Kitchen error
  • Plate waste
Source: WRAP

Source: WRAP

Even in the best-run kitchens there will be some food waste. The priority is to reduce how much food is wasted in your property, before considering how best to dispose of unavoidable waste.

How to reduce food waste?

WRAP outlines 4 steps:

Step 1: Measure your food waste
Step 2: Develop an action plan to reduce food waste using the data collected, with targets, timescales and responsibilities
Step 3: Review progress on the plan each month
Step 4: Share your good work with staff, consumers and industry

The resources referenced below and a step-by-step online guide can all be found at WRAP’s Hospitality and Foodservice Online Resource centre.  Based on material from Unilever, the resources are relevant to any hotel anywhere in the world.

Step 1: Measure your food waste

For a trial period, e.g. a week, start collecting food waste in three separate bins (one each for preparation, spoilage and plate waste), where appropriate, to understand where and why this waste arises. Weigh them daily to find out where the most food waste is being generated. This should include food that would otherwise have ended up in the sink disposal unit. Remember that this is going to present a challenge to staff to do things differently so preparation is key – make sure staff understand why you are doing this and get on board.

You can record this on a Food Waste Tracking Sheet (see below), available via WRAP or US EPA. For more detail, Unilever’s Wise Up On Waste is an app for professional kitchens to conveniently monitor and track food waste, including monitoring the composition of plate waste. We’d recommend you go this extra step as if you are wasting a lot of meat, this is costing you a lot of money!

WRAP food waste tracking sheet

Case study: The SRA and The Bingham. In the UK, the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) is running a scheme called Food Save to help hoteliers and restaurants understand and reduce their food waste.Waste frompreparation, spoilage and plate waste are separated and weighed for a month to identify sources of food waste. The Bingham Hotel piloted the scheme in spring 2014. GM Erick Kervaon reports that the first challenge was to get staff on board. Changing habits and getting people to do things differently can be a challenge; after all, many chefs just want to cook! Key to the success of the project at The Bingham was to present to staff at the start of the project to get them on board – not only with an environmental message but using the opportunity to engage staff in the business through their financial responsibility for reducing wastage. Empowering staff in this way and allowing them to share in the success by allocating part of the savings to a staff football tournament really helped engage staff. Now segregation of waste is business as usual and the restaurant at The Bingham is turning a higher profit.

Calculate the amount of food waste produced each year from the data collected. Multiply this figure by the cost per tonne (£4,000 in the UK) to find out how much this could be costing your business each year. Use actual data from food wasted and disposal costs if you are able to collect this.

Repeat this at least twice a year to measure your progress. This will enable the cost of food waste to be identified and for progress to be tracked over time.

Case study: Strattons is a small, independent, family-run hotel in Norfolk. In just one year (2010-11), the hotel managed to save over £16,000 by reducing food and packaging waste, increasing recycling to 98% and making savings in other areas such as good housekeeping and water use. One food waste initiative was to naturally dry coffee grounds and use for horticultural purposes, reducing food waste by around 332kg per year. Read more here

Step 2: Develop an action plan to reduce food waste using the data collected, with targets, timescales and responsibilities.

Your action plan should include;

Preventing spoilagewrap stock sheet

  • Review stock management and food delivery processes for food items with a short shelf life. Ensure stock is rotated as new deliveries come in (first in, first out). WRAP provides stock control sheets online
  • Store stock correctly at the right temperature, in the right packaging, labelled and with dates

Ordering and menu planning

  • Using some pre-prepared, frozen or dried ingredients can reduce wastage. And remember, you can freeze most foodstuffs – even eggs!
  • Be familiar with reservations forecasts and do not over-order or over-prepare. Is 20% extra a good buffer on a busy day? Can another 20% be kept frozen for contingencies? Track the menu for slower-moving dishes. Customers don’t need too many choices and keeping the menu simple reduces the possibility of waste.
  • Be imaginative with your menus! Consider what perishable ingredients or trimmings can be used in different ways, e.g. fish trimmings or bones for stock, bread for breadcrumbs or croutons, ingredients for pate & soups, etc., and plan menus accordingly to use these ingredients, e.g. by offering daily specials. And why not offer potatoes with skin on? Unilever’s Wise Up On Waste app has some handy tips for ‘repurposing’ ingredients. Excess preparation and ingredients close to their use-by date could be made available for staff meals.

Case study –The Lancaster, London: “Nose-to-tail” dining, the principle of using the whole animal to avoid waste, has recently been introduced at The Lancaster, London. Not only is this a great initiative to reduce food waste; it is an inventive commercial offering.

  • too good to wasteOffer customers choice. That could be different portion sizes - a consumer survey showed that 41% of those surveyed blamed oversized portions for leaving food. Good portion control using standard measures will also help you keep the cost consistent. For smaller portions you could offer a refill/second helping – or options for side dishes or build their own dish so that they can order what they prefer and will not leave food on the plate. The main dish and sides are most likely to be left behind, with chips (fries) the most commonly left food (32%). Offer ‘doggy bags’/boxes for consumers to take home what they have not eaten, where appropriate – be careful to check local health and safety regulations. “83% of the public would ask for a doggy box but don’t think they can or are too embarrassed” (Sustainable Restaurant Association).

Case study: Greene King pubs in the UK have a range of different portion sizes. The Golden Years Menu caters for more mature guests, specifically tailored to satisfy lighter appetites, and two different children’s menus are offered; the Children’s Menu – suitable for children between 7 and 10 years, and the Juniors’ Menu – suitable for children under 7 years.

  • If running a buffet, some hotels have successfully used a ‘pay by weight’ system which enables customers to eat as much as they want but discourages them from taking too much. See this case study from Dubai. Others use signs to request that customers just take what they need, such as those from ‘Love Food Hate Waste’.
  • Engage your staff. The infographic in this article on Green Hotelier summarises the key steps to take

See the Love Food Hate Waste Resource Pack to see the consumer research referred to above and for great advice on engaging the customer.

Step 3: Review progress on the plan each month

Speak to staff and get their feedback on the progress being made. This will keep people involved and motivated. Measure the amount of waste produced regularly and work out how much money is being saved.

Step 4: Share your good work with staff, consumers and industry

Don’t forget to thank staff and keep them motivated. Rewards are excellent to recognise the efforts they have made.

Keep up-to-date on all the good practice being carried out by other businesses by looking online, e.g. the WRAP site or initiatives local to you (see the Further Reading list at the end of this Guide). Apply anything you learn to the plan and update it regularly.

Share your case studies with us at Considerate Hoteliers and on Green Hotelier – here’s how to contribute. On Twitter, use the hashtag #foodwaste to make sure others see your story, and to search for and link to relevant organisations.

You might also choose to get external recognition for your achievements through awards and certifications, such as the UK the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM) Awards, Carbon Trust Waste Standard, as achieved by Whitbread, or by signing the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement - a voluntary agreement to support the sector in reducing waste and recycling more.

See the Love Food Hate Waste Resource Pack to see consumer research and some great advice on engaging the customer

Staff training and communication

Getting staff on board with your waste reduction and management strategy is key. Work out right from the start who to involve, and ensuring that together you make it work. It takes time to create new processes and habits so make sure staff know why you are doing what you are doing. See the case study on The Bingham above. Get their buy in. Make it easy. Train and retrain staff. It can be hard to get all staff together for training, so consider what alternatives you can provide. Whitbread’s ‘Say No to Landfill’ training modules are online so staff can do it at a time that suits them.

Case Study: At The Hyatt Regency London, The Churchill, four staff teams were asked to create short videos on waste handling. All four were played in the staff restaurant, to the amusement of associates who saw their senior managers ridiculing themselves. The success of this strategy was combining a clear message with a lot of fun which staff would talk about and remember.

Case Study: London Kings Cross Premier Inn was awarded the ‘Most Improved Recycler 2014’ award from Veolia. During the first 7 months of 2013, London Kings Cross contaminated their recycling waste streams on 27 separate occasions resulting in significant risk and cost to the business. Then incredibly from October 2013 all contamination suddenly stopped...... see below their success story and how they achieved their award!

The Issue... The team at London Kings Cross were experiencing many issues with their waste since the general to mixed recycling conversion programme was introduced. Contamination of waste streams were resulting in non-collections, which meant a significant waste build up that affected other key services for the hotel. A joint WHR and Veolia support site survey audit was carried out to see what steps could be put in place to solve the continued waste issues at site.

Two problems were quickly identified...

  1. Housekeeping teams misunderstood what waste from their activities should be put into which bins.
  2. There was also a need to increase this service provision at site by two extra lifts.

The steps taken to turn a negative into a positive...

  1. Following on from extensive conversations, Veolia were able to increase the mixed recycling provision, preventing the waste build up from occurring over the weekend.
  2. In order to move forward and correct the contamination issues, the site embarked on an extensive waste & recycling awareness education programme, including arranging for all team members to take the Academy on-line ‘Say No to Landfill’ module training.
  3. In addition, it was identified that not only were the House keeping team contractors, but for the majority of them, English was not their first language. This was addressed by the waste team visiting the site to arrange to brief the house keeping team in their language. This was translated by their shift leader so that everyone on site knew what was expected and how the process worked.

The Outcome... Year to date, all contamination at site has stopped and this has resulted in a month by month improvement for the hotel. This is a direct result of the hotel manager’s drive and the team’s persistence and engagement with the Good Together waste programme.

Solutions for treatment and disposal of waste

Source: WRAP

Source: WRAP

The best, most cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution is to stop food becoming waste or surplus in the first place - being eaten is always the best option for food! However, food you cannot use does not always need to become waste. Distinguish between ‘surplus food’ and ‘waste’. Even the best-run kitchens generate some food waste, so what you can’t reduce, prioritise for treatment as per the above diagram.

Legislation and availability of local services will affect your choice of options so check locally and apply the best option according to the food recovery hierarchy above.

Optimisation - feed hungry people - food banks and collection

The best way to use excess food is to feed hungry people. Many charities around the world will collect excess food, including prepared food, to provide for the needy, though note there may be various legal and health and safety requirements to check with your legal team and with the charity in question. Many hotels and companies small and large, including Hilton Worldwide, have risen to the challenge

The process will depend on the market and capabilities of the food bank. Identify food banks or agencies that can accept prepared food and then identify hotels in the area they operate that might want to participate. The food bank or agency can then work with the hotel to determine the types of food they can take and the process for storing. In many cases it is easier to freeze and schedule regular (e.g. weekly) pick-ups. Some organisations may be able to pick up the same day and maintain the heated or cooled product directly to the end recipient but arranging logistics for small regular donations can be difficult. Note that the existing food banking infrastructure/economics is set up to maximize large volumes of non-perishable items from donors like grocers or manufacturers, so accommodating relatively smaller donations and perishable food can be challenging, but it is worth exploring and is a very rewarding activity.

To find food banks in your area, see The Global Food Banking Network and the following or search online;

Optimisation - animal feeds

This option is not available in many countries due to health and safety legislation. For example in Europe, the laws changed following the outbreak of mad cow disease which has been attributed to feeding animals waste food.

In some parts of the world, however, converting food waste to safe animal feed may soon be an option. Sealed Air, a global leader in cleaning, hygiene and packaging solutions, including food safety programs, has been leading several CSR programmes such as Soap For Hope and Linens For Life in the industry. They are now are piloting a scheme to collect food waste from hotels and convert it to dried food pellets for distribution to poor farmers as animal feed. The pilot takes place in Mauritius in November 2014 and it is hoped to roll this out to the Middle East, Africa and Asia markets.


Check online what services are available to help you recycle your food, such as through the Food Waste Network in the UK

Recycling - composting

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. In this process, organic waste, such as food waste and garden clippings, is biodegraded and turned into valuable fertilizer. In its simplest form, the advantages to composting are twofold; it reduces the amount of solid waste in your trash and, when used in a garden, it fertilizes the soil.  If your property has gardens, on-site composting may be an option, alternatively, seek a composting contractor in your area.

Composting case studies: Soneva Fushi, Four Seasons Philadelphia, Healesville Hotel Melbourne and Copacabana Palace Rio all compost

Energy recovery from food waste 

Anerobic digestion

Anaerobic digestion (AD) involves the breakdown of biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen by micro-organisms called methanogens. The process of AD provides a source of renewable energy, since the food waste is broken down to produce biogas (a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide), which is suitable for energy production. The biogas can be used to generate electricity and heat to power on-site equipment and, where the infrastructure exists, the excess electricity can be exported to the National Grid.

Check if collection for AD is possible in your area. For more information and to find UK AD sites, click here or see the UK Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA)

Biofuel from waste cooking oil

In many places it is a legal requirement that oils and fats from frying processes are collected. Oils can be put to great use by being recycled into biofuels for vehicles. The volumes produced by a hotel can be significant, for example The Savoy London’s kitchen oil recycling scheme to biofuel averages around 1,800 litres per quarter. Many commercial services exist, many which pay for fats, so check what’s available in your locality.

Case study: At Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons, recycles waste fats (oils and butters from cooking) using a local company called Arrow Oil, who supply Fat Bins (Le Manoir and Arrow Oil split the cost of purchasing the bins 50-50). These are stored in a separate outdoor refrigerated unit to stop unwanted smells, leakages and pests and are collected on a weekly basis. The fat is recycled into biofuel; Arrow Oil then gives us 25p per litre [in 2012] back. The biofuel currently fuels Arrow Oils transportation. Le Manoir comment; “This project was a great success…and results already show a great saving from recycling the fats. It also has eased our manual handling techniques and is a cleaner more efficient system of storage. In 2011 17,290 litres of cooking oil was reclaimed from Le Manoir, this gave our Eco Brigade & staff welfare fund £2247.70 + VAT. Some of this money has then been invested back into kick starting our conversion of our light bulbs into LED bulbs.”

Other technologies

Organic waste disposal systems are available which convert food waste to water, such as this one used by the Hilton Fort Lauderdale. Dehydrators may be used to extract water from food waste to reduce the weight for landfill and fuel to transport.

Optimising your food recycling programme

Get the bins right. Incorrect types and numbers of bins can lead to the wrong waste going in the wrong bin, such as recycling going in with general waste. Adjusting the size of bins or frequency that they are collected can also save money.

Choose the most appropriate waste management solution for your needs. When entering into a contract for food waste recycling, or other waste collections, make sure that the service meets your requirements and won’t incur additional costs. Make sure you ask the right questions.

Ask the waste management contractor for your data. Having data on how much waste is going to landfill, being recycled or going to AD will help to understand current levels of recycling. This information can then be used to identify further opportunities. Monitor how this changes on a regular basis.

Do the maths. Recycling waste doesn’t attract landfill tax and may cost less. If you are already recycling packaging, it’s worth speaking to the waste contractor about other services including food waste collections.

Get staff on your side. Engage staff to recycle more by helping them to understand which waste goes in which bin. It is key for staff to ‘buy in’ to initiatives so that they see the benefits. This will encourage participation and help increase recycling rates.

Work together. Consider working with neighbouring businesses to procure food waste and recycling collections, where appropriate. There may be efficiencies/economies of scale to be made by working together. Where larger scale is needed, see what you can do on a national or industry scale.

The Hospitality Carbon Reduction Forum in the UK is urging hospitality companies to collaborate to optimise cost and the volume of food waste that can be sent to AD processing.

More detail is available and a step by step approach via WRAP’s Food Waste Recycling for your Business, including;

…and a lot more!

For more information, have a look at the following:

ITP would like to thank, WRAP, Considerate Hoteliers, Hilton Worldwide, Whitbread PLC, the Sustainable Restaurant Association, The Bingham and Soneva Hotels and Resorts for their contribution to developing this Guide.

Sources: [1] |[2] | [3] | [4]| [5] FAO 2013 |[6] UK food waste statistics from | [7] | [8]

4 Responses to Reducing and Managing Food Waste in Hotels

  1. Excellent article, thanks you. Will apply this in our hotels

  2. Thanks Piet! Glad you like it!

  3. Pingback: Independent Hotel Show Thought Series: Go green and save | Holly Tuppen

  4. Pingback: A Cook's Book Food Cost: Food Course Management Course |

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