What does the restaurant rebound mean for food waste?

15 March, 22

According to insight published by Lumina Intelligence, the UK hospitality sector is set to recover to 94% of its 2019 value in 2022. Despite an outlet decline in of 2.8% in 2021 (a loss of 817 sites nationwide), the market grew by 25.9% year-on-year, with further growth of 59.4% (£6.6bn) projected before the end of 2022.*

With COVID-19 restrictions relaxed, the UK’s top ten branded restaurants are expected to collectively attract sales in excess of £3bn in 2022 (exceeding 2019 turnover) as the sector continues to bounce-back from a hugely challenging 24-months.

However, while the resurgence of restaurants continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, so too does the sector’s hidden food waste mountain. Indeed, according to recent research, restaurants have reported a sharp rise in food waste volumes in the wake of the pandemic. Nearly half of businesses surveyed admitted to throwing more food away than they did pre-pandemic, with teams struggling to forecast daily demand and changes in consumer consumption habits.

With overheads tight and profitability key to safeguarding the future of the sector, savvy restauranteurs should be looking at effective ways to cut unnecessary costs. This is where managing food waste comes in – reducing operational expenses while improving your establishment’s reputation in one fell swoop.

Zero waste to landfill?

According to insight from New Food Waste Horizons, a pioneering research report analysing the UK’s progress towards zero food waste to landfill, the hospitality and food services industry wastes more than £3 billion per annum by needlessly throwing away perfectly edible produce.

But while a significant drain on profits, the environmental implications of this behaviour are even more concerning. In fact, research shows that food waste left to decompose in landfill releases greenhouse gases considered 21 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

In terms of a carbon footprint, food waste emits 3.3 billion tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent every year — roughly 7% of our entire global emissions. What’s more, if food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest polluter in the world after China and the United States of America.

So, what can restaurants do to prevent the negative environmental implications of landfill and reduce escalating disposal costs? While not the silver bullet solution, food waste recycling provides a cost effective and environmentally-friendly solution.

An environmental alternative

Harnessing anaerobic digestion (AD), the food waste recycling process sees food broken down – in the absence of oxygen – on a mass scale. The resulting biogas, released during the natural degradation of food waste, is captured and can either be combusted to generate renewable heat and electricity, or upgraded and injected directly into the national gas grid.

Providing feedstock remains consistent, this provides a reliable source of low-carbon, decentralised energy for householders nationwide. Even the remaining digestate can be used as a sustainable biofertiliser to help aid crop growth; effectively closing the food supply chain. Nothing is wasted.

Alongside preventing valuable resources from ending up in landfill, adopting food waste recycling collections can save hospitality businesses up to 53% on their waste management bills. With no landfill tax payable, disposal costs noticeably fall.

At ReFood, we operate three state-of-the-art anaerobic digestion facilities in Widnes, Doncaster and Dagenham. Every year, we collect more than 400,000 tonnes of food waste and create enough power to run 55,000 homes nationwide in result.

Our fleet collects food waste from businesses nationwide – at a frequency to suit their precise needs – either in bulk or individual bins. We even provide customers with a ‘bin swap’ service, which sees full bins collected and substituted with clean, sanitised replacements. This allows food waste bins to be hygienically used in kitchen environments and means waste can be separated at source.

Switching to food waste recycling provides restaurants with a low-cost, hassle-free, sustainable solution to manage their unavoidable waste. While at ReFood we believe that zero food waste would be the perfect solution, in practice this is rarely achievable. Businesses should always follow the food waste hierarchy – reducing waste when they can, redistributing what’s possible, sending the remainder to be used as animal feed and recycling what can’t be eaten.

General waste is expensive and environmentally-damaging. Fortunately, an alternative solution is easily accessible, simple to implement and won’t break the bank. As hospitality businesses continue to recover from the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, food waste recycling should top the list as an effective tactic to help streamline overheads, improve profitability and protect the planet.

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