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Designing out food waste in hospitality – 4 stages to sustainability

As the UK Government steps up its campaign to reduce food waste, the hospitality sector is firmly in the spotlight. No one can deny the sheer scale of the challenge ahead. The hospitality sector produces over 1 million tonnes of food waste each year, according to WRAP.

Yet while setting targets is essential to driving change, companies first need to establish a benchmark and determine up front the scale of the problem. Where is food waste occurring: is it from spoilage, preparation or plate scrapings? Then more importantly, why is food being wasted: is it a result of over procurement, incorrect food storage or inconsistent portion control?

David Coaton, Corporate Sector Director – Hospitality, SWRnewstar, outlines a proven four stage model for cutting food waste within hospitality – and it starts with segregating, measuring and tracking food waste production.

  1. Understand scale

Targets for reducing food wastage are ambitious – with a goal to halve food waste by 2030. To date the Government has adopted a softly-softly approach. However, plans to encourage large businesses to publish their food waste statistics, plus DEFRA’s proposed mandatory food waste collections for households in England, are a clear indication of commitment. Indeed, the latter approach will further reinforce both the value of food segregation and public awareness of the scale of food waste across the hospitality sector.

Right now there is no specific legislation in place in England and Wales, unlike Scotland where any commercial business producing over 5kg of food per day has to segregate food waste by law. However, this is changing with a new UK Food Waste Champion and the government’s ‘Step Up to the Plate’ campaign. Along with other industry initiatives, including WRAP’s ‘Guardians of Grub’ and ‘Food waste, Bad taste’ from The Sustainable Restaurant Association which are actively encouraging food segregation to provide hospitality companies with an essential understanding of the scale, cost and cause of food waste.

There are so many factors that contribute to food waste, from over-buying stock to poor food storage and management and inadequate portion control – yet when all spoiled food disappears into the general waste bin there is absolutely no way to determine the cause of waste. However committed a company may be to improving sustainability, change cannot be achieved without fully understanding the level of food waste at every step of the process. By segregating and measuring food waste produced during preparation and cooking, plate scrape and stock clear out, a company can begin to see the trends in activity – and take steps to effect change.

2. Stop procuring waste

For any company still not convinced by the environmental drive to reduce food waste there is also a compelling financial argument for better food management – with companies saving £14 for every £1 invested in food reduction according to Champions 12.3 research. These savings are not derived solely from disposal costs, which are typically less than 1% of a company’s turnover, although there are undoubtedly savings to be made from maximising waste segregation. The very significant cost reductions are achieved by leveraging better understanding and smart procurement.

Growing numbers of hospitality companies now acknowledge they routinely procure waste by over specifying raw ingredients. In some cases this is due to suppliers’ minimum order value, which is a real problem for smaller businesses. But often it is because those placing the orders have no, or low, visibility of the level of wastage that occurs in the kitchen and cannot identify obvious problem areas. By segregating food waste at each step of the process, companies can reconsider spend – not only avoiding procuring waste but also looking again at processes for food storage, portion size and less popular menu items.

3. Gain employee commitment

The challenge in realising this sustainability goal is to get staff engaged in the process and that requires two key elements. Firstly, education and top level management focus. If a restaurant manager or chef is not committed to reducing food waste, nothing will change. And for chains with thousands of employees, with multiple different food production points, strong staff commitment is essential.

Staff buy in must be backed up by good processes. In a busy kitchen it is essential to make the segregation of food waste easy – if there is only one dedicated food bin, for example, hard pressed staff will likely resort to the general bin when the pressure is on. Simple steps in kitchen design can make a huge difference. For example, ensuring bins are arranged in pairs – general and food waste – at each food production station will make it easy for staff to automatically segregate food. Make it even simpler by colour coding bins and adding clear, concise labels, so that even when staff move between sections – even outlets – the recycling process is identical. By changing the mindset, a few very simple steps can help companies to design out waste.

4. Celebrate success to embed food waste reduction into the culture

Celebrating success is the key to maintaining employee commitment and embedding progressive food waste reduction into the business culture. The trick is to carefully define ‘success’. There are anecdotal reports that a strict, narrow focus on reducing the weight of food waste bins can lead to kitchen mistakes being hidden in black bags, leading to heavier general waste bins. A culture that acknowledges that accidents happen and lessons can be learnt from transparency is more positive in the long-run. The recent £4500 ‘wine incident’ at Hawksmoor made headlines for the right reasons.

There are also areas of cultural change that can radically reduce both the procurement and production of food waste. There is a strong argument for reducing choice and ditching less popular items as well as reconsidering portion size. Of course, this is a tough move, especially for those catering to a population that expects both choice and large portions. But the tide of public opinion is turning; from Blue Planet onwards, individuals are increasingly aware of the need for a more sustainable approach.  Understanding what food is being wasted and why helps identify menu areas to tackle. For example, garnishes of salad leaves or lemon wedges can be made optional, reducing waste and involving customers in the solution by offering them the choice. The return of ‘doggy bags’ is another potential solution. Better food management provides companies with the chance to embrace this shift in customer expectation and publicise their sustainability commitment and performance.

Recognising the position of hospitality businesses in the middle of the supply chain is useful to broaden the focus to include engaging suppliers and customers. A forward thinking waste management partner will provide recommendations and support to introduce stakeholder initiatives.


The hospitality sector has a significant challenge when it comes to food waste – and that means it is essential to set very bold targets. Ignorance is no longer acceptable. Create a benchmark, determine the scale of the problem and continually measure and track waste production. Ensure staff are engaged. Education is essential but what about incentives? It is important to celebrate success, for example, with league tables highlighting top performers.

Nominating a member of staff as sustainability champion is also a good step. Alongside a focus on food waste, this individual can help to reduce energy consumption by ensuring lights are switched off and minimising single use activity. With so many millennials and Gen Zs highly eco driven, embracing this wider sustainability focus can also help to build stronger staff engagement. 

Finally, don’t treat food waste as a one off campaign. Continual improvement is both essential and achievable. Review food waste metrics routinely and set new targets each year.  This is a long term commitment, and if the UK Government is to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal to halve global food waste at consumer and retail levels by 2030, legislation is inevitable. Those companies that start to segregate, measure and reduce food waste now will not only be ahead of the game but also gain valuable financial payback, as well as employee and customer support.

Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

Best practice waste solutions in property management

When it comes to managing waste, there are specific complexities in the property management sector. With many stakeholders; from tenants to managing agents, building managers and landlords, the property management sector requires a unique approach to engage all key parties. Each stakeholder will have their own priorities and targets to meet. 

Although there may be different internal goals for each tenant, it is critical that people are on board with the building objectives to ensure a plan can be put in place that works for everyone. 

Despite these potential challenges, there are best practice steps, which can be implemented to ensure all stakeholders meet their targets and, more importantly, feel and see the value of an ironclad waste management solution. 

Jo Gibbs, Corporate Sector Director at SWRnewstar, outlines the five key areas of best practices for property management… 

Understanding the building and the resources generated

Particularly in city centre locations there are a number of properties with a mixture of tenants, typically including; office, retail, residential, restaurants and coffee shops. The types of wastebeing produced at these sites can vary significantly from high volume food waste to office shredding. 

When designing solutions for property management, it is important to treat each building individually and understand exactly what waste is being produced at that location. Identifying the volume and type of waste the tenants are generating is the first step to ensure the correct services are in place to manage these waste streams most effectively and minimise costs.

Space is at a premium in many city centre buildings and prime retail locations. Ensuring the containers and waste areas are best utilised is not only best practice it’s a commercial necessity.  

Also, there is often a careful balance to strike to ensure the appropriate containers are available in the right places whilst minimising waste collection vehicle movements. Avoiding unnecessary vehicle movements is a key element in optimising the building’s overall carbon footprint and your waste management partner will be able to advise on the best solution.

Optimise the route of materials through the building

Sometimes when assessing an office floor, at first view it looks like they’re recycling 60-70 per cent of their waste; however, data can reveal that it is actually close to 30-40 per cent. Somewhere between the disposal point and collection by the driver, something goes wrong. This is often because of a lack of consistency about what goes where, and what is actually recyclable. 

A super effective solution is to implement a colour coded scheme across the building to ensure consistency for the cleaning teams, tenants and building managers, so everyone understands which containers are for which waste streams. Using consistent colour coding across the floors and in the waste areas reduces any room for error. 

Maximising segregation at source is the key to achieving sustainably high recycling rates. The challenge here is that recycling is not as black and white as many people think it is. For example, just because something is made of plastic, it isn’t automatically recyclable. A clear and simple system to label containers and communicate which bin items should go into is essential.

Engaging stakeholders

Consultations on each floor are an excellent way to engage with tenants, particularly when the messages are made specific and relevant for them. Actively looking inside peoples’ bins to ‘lift the lid’ and identify their most common waste streams is a very good place to start. For example, if a floor has high volumes of sandwich packaging from team lunches the educational process can be targeted to these particular items. The individual card and plastic components may be recyclable but when combined, they’re complex to reprocess. Also, food remnants can cause contamination.

As well as increasing recycling rates there are commercial benefits. Service charges are typically applied on square footage, resulting in tenants contributing the same to waste services regardless of the type or volume of waste actually being produced. This set up can lead to frustrations if not managed correctly. Food waste collections are a good place to start to address this situation. The building management team, supported by their waste management partner, can focus on engagement with food retailers to maximise segregation. Food is particularly heavy and when added into general waste collections it often results in overweight bins which push up the overall costs.

Data Driven Insights

Reporting and KPI tracking allows individual buildings to monitor progress and provides sustainability teams with headline results for the portfolio. The BBP best practice guidelines have set the standard for waste management reporting in the sector. Also, the quality of information available is improving as technological capabilities in the waste industry develop. 

Data on its own is only numbers, it is the understanding about what the numbers mean which is really valuable. A good waste management partner will focus on providing insight to support the regular reports along with an action plan to implement changes. For example, identifying that dry mixed recycling collections are being rejected due to contamination should trigger a review of the building processes and engagement with all stakeholders.

On-Site Management

If recycling rates stagnate before reaching agreed targeted levels on-site management can generate powerful results. 

Introducing a dedicated person to take responsibility for increasing segregation of resources, even for a few hours a week, is a significant step but the commitment is proven to deliver commercial and sustainability benefits.

On-site resource management is most effective with full support from the building managers. If materials arriving at the recycling area are too heavily contaminated on-site management can’t add much value. The process needs to start on each floor to ensure that all materials go into the right containers and help reduce contamination, particularly from food and liquids.

Fast feedback is one of the less obvious benefits of on-site resource management. If repeated contaminations are coming from certain areas of the building they can be highlighted to the tenants. Clear communication about what is going wrong combined with a solution which is monitored is proven to increase recycling rates.

Whilst Property Management presents particular challenges in balancing the requirements of all stakeholders following best practice steps helps embed behaviour change and achieve sustainable, long term results.