Food waste, bad taste

How sustainable are restaurant menus across the board? What happens to surplus food at the end of dinner service? Should there be further improvements made to prevent high levels of food waste in restaurants? Jack Wynn investigates

Going out for food with friends or family is evidently an enjoyable experience. You get to try the dishes you may not cook for yourself at home, there’s no prep or food shopping involved, and zero cleaning up means more quality time with your loved ones. 

However, all this comfort also means less thought put into the food leftover. It comes as no surprise to find out that, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) an estimated 14.9 million tonnes of food goes to waste in Europe every year across the hospitality and retail sectors. Plus, in the UK alone, the amount of food thrown away by the hospitality and food service sectors equates to one in every six meals served.

There’s more key statistics that could sway you to think more carefully about leftovers from now on. WRAP estimates 199,100 tonnes of food waste is created each year in UK restaurants; 22% of total UK food waste is from the hospitality and food sectors; and £0.97 per meal is the average cost of ‘avoidable food waste’ to a business.

WRAP suggests, in correspondence with the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement (HaFSA), that restaurants and other businesses follow an action plan and make key strategic decisions to put food sustainability first. For example, restaurants should: measure and monitor the food waste; recognise productive ways to waste less; review the progress made both financially and correlating feedback from staff; and share the progress made with colleagues, customers and industry peers. 

Jamie Crummie is co-founder of the app Too Good To Go. Worldwide, they run the largest app for surplus food, partnering with over 36,000 restaurants and retailers with over 18.5 million registered users. Just in the UK, they claim their users have saved over 1.5 million meals from going to waste and amongst their 3,000 UK restaurant and retail partners are brands including Morrisons, LEON, Greene King, OXO, Lola’s Cupcakes and YO! “We raise the profile of an often overlooked environmental problem,” says Jamie. “In 2019, we did some research which showed that nearly 70% of people in the UK don’t realise that food waste is connected to climate change.” 

Too Good To Go has to date partnered with 36,000 restaurants and retailers. Image credit: Too Good To Go.

Jamie continues to suggest the app’s social media reach of more than 300,000 followers has helped to reinforce their initiatives. In particular: ‘Magic Bags’, whereby perfectly edible food from restaurants and shops is collected for people to pick up at the end of the day, “Globally, we have saved 30.7 million Magic Bags from being wasted,” says Jamie. “The environmental impact of every Magic Bag saved equates to 2.5kg of CO2 prevented, meaning the impact is the same as taking roughly 10,000 cars off the road for an entire year.”

Further complimenting the app’s power of engagement, analysis conducted by Wageningen Food and Biobased Research in October 2019 showed that 22% of Too Good To Go’s users acknowledge they have started reducing food waste in additional ways since using the app, such as: food shopping more consciously; checking fridge and pantry stock more often; using more leftover food in meal prep; freezing leftovers more often; and only preparing the amount of food that is actually needed.

A similar food app, Karma, which has partnered with food chains Oasi Burger, Fabrique Bakery and Black Sheep Coffee, among others, has claimed to have saved 950 tonnes of food, 1,400 tonnes of CO2 and more than two million meals since it was founded in Stockholm in 2016. Currently, the app is available in 225 cities, 1.2 million people are making use of its service, and has even been endorsed by President Barack Obama. 

Earlier this year one of the co-founders, Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren, said the introduction of smart fridges could help to make a more positive impact to food waste, with plans to install 100 fridges across France, Sweden and the UK, “A smart fridge increases the ability of retailers to handle surplus — they no longer need people to be handing out the food,” said Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren in an interview with Sifted, “We found that retailers who were uploading 50 to 70 items a day to the Karma site would double their output after we installed the fridge.” 

Karma operates in 225 cities worldwide and has been endorsed by President Barack Obama. Image credit: Karma.

Luisa Ruocco, social media influencer known as The Hungry Traveller with more than 50,000 Instagram followers, is another powerful figure in stamping out restaurant food waste and recognises the industry’s recent efforts, “Fortunately, restaurants are becoming more and more conscious of their footprint and are taking huge steps towards becoming more sustainable this year, a big part of which is cutting down on food waste,” says Luisa. 

She continued to explain the need for restaurants to really think about what they are offering, “Needing to have fresh ingredients in the kitchen in case someone orders a dish off the menu that requires them is a huge part of why restaurant waste is such an issue. Reducing the menu to just a few options which, for example, change on a monthly basis is a crafty compromise to solve that problem.” 

If we’re going to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.1, we have to halve food waste by 2030. Within the last three years, supply chain food waste has dropped 4% compared to the previous five years. Although this indicates good progress being made by restaurants and other businesses, it’s safe to say we need others to create even more impact if we are realistically going to halve our food waste.