Food waste is a failure of the imagination

Food waste is an issue so vast that it can be hard to appreciate its true scale.

Sustainability headlines are often accompanied by images of waste piled up in landfills or floating in the ocean, with plastic packaging often held up as the villain in our planet’s story. While it is undeniable that unnecessary plastic use is a severe problem, in terms of emissions it is dwarfed by the food waste crisis.

The OECD estimates that plastics contribute to 3.4% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughout their lifecycle. According to WRAP, food waste is responsible for 8-10% of global GHG emissions, with almost a third of all food produced going wasted. That inability to address the food waste problem on the level that is required represents a failure on behalf of the food and packaging industries – and our planet is paying the price for that failure.


The root of the problem

A significant portion of this waste occurs in households – the UN estimates 11% of all food available at the consumption stage of the supply chain is discarded. However, the foodservice and hospitality sectors are not without blame – they waste around 5% of all the food they have available. This does not sound like a lot, but it adds up to almost 200,000 tonnes of food waste every year in the UK alone – and it also comes with a hefty bill of £682m per year.

This waste comes in many forms. 34% of it stems from customer leftovers, while 21% stems from spoilage. This means over half of all restaurant waste is down to restaurants overbuying stock and miscalculating the proper portion size.

These findings are reflected in the mountains of potatoes that go wasted each year. The humble potato’s status as an all-purpose, cost-effective side also means it is the UK’s most wasted food, with a large portion of potato waste stemming from overfilling customer plates with mashed potatoes and chips. Potato peelings also add up to create a sizable amount of waste.

The same is true of salad items like leaves and tomatoes. Restaurants may overfill plates with salad to create a sense of value for money. However, this can lead to copious overbuying of highly perishable fruits and vegetables, many of which spoil before they can be served.

All of this waste is preventable. This may seem like a bold claim – after all, how is a restaurant supposed to account for the occasional customer whose eyes are bigger than their belly? – but a waste-free restaurant is a realistic aim that the industry should be aiming for.


Chipping away at the problem

Sustainability is a complex, multi-faceted issue that is difficult to break down – but that difficulty only makes it all the more important for a few trailblazing businesses to show the imagination and leadership required to drive global change. This change will not happen overnight, but it will start with a few individual businesses, before snowballing into a collective movement.

As this is such a complex issue, there is no one magic bullet solution. There are, however, dozens of tiny measures a business can enact to play its part.

Using food leftovers as compost for on-site herb gardens is one novel way businesses can limit the amount of waste they produce. On the more technological side of the scale, apps can connect foodservice businesses with surplus resellers and charities that can make use of items like leftover bread. Bread is one of the most wasted foods, as it is usually baked on the day of service, and is no longer considered fresh enough to serve the next day. However, there is nothing to stop this bread from going to good use elsewhere.

This is just scratching the surface of what is possible through relatively minor adjustments to daily operating procedures. Spoilage can be cut by ensuring food is properly packaged on arrival and properly stored once opened. Utilising a cling film to wrap portions of chicken or fresh fruit may seem counter-intuitive from a sustainability perspective, but the environmental footprint of the relatively small amount of film this uses is significantly smaller than that of the potential food waste it prevents.

At Prowrap, we work in tandem with the foodservice industry to develop professional-grade solutions that push the efficiency of our products even further. For example, our range of dedicated cling film, foil and baking paper Speedwrap refills help prevent dispensing errors and overwrapping in a fast-paced environment.

We have also developed Ecocling, a fully recyclable, PVC-free film to align your kitchen with the circular economy. It offers the attributes that chefs and kitchen staff look for – stretchability, durability, high barrier performance, and cutting capability – and was proudly used in catering for the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

Food waste is a massive, global problem, true. But by making many small tweaks to everyday business operations – such as adopting a stringent food wrapping policy in the kitchen using cling film or professional-grade foil – it is possible for individual foodservice businesses to chip away at the problem one plate at a time, until it is a thing of the past.

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