The waste conundrum

On the face of it, the very idea of managing and consolidating food waste in a responsible, sustainable manner is a perfectly understandable and valid concept. Why wouldn’t operators do it?

The reality, though, is somewhat different. Yes, most will acknowledge an obligation to manage food waste dutifully but on the other hand the subject has become riddled with complexity as a result of a lack of understanding over legislation, equipment and best practice.

Rising collection and disposal costs, current and pending regulations, and local policy decisions are all impacting on operators’ businesses.

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For every foodservice provider toeing the sustainability line and pledging a zero food waste to landfill policy will be another that still goes about getting rid of waste the same way they did a decade ago.

Meanwhile, legislation introduced in Scotland at the start of this year has left many onlookers wondering what the future holds for other parts of the UK.

Studies by WRAP suggest the UK’s hospitality and foodservice sector is on course to rack up an annual bill in excess of £3 billion for food waste by 2016, giving a clear indication of the scale of the problem.

The average annual cost of food waste per outlet, meanwhile, is estimated at £10,000. That sum is certainly not insignificant for an independent operator, let alone a group business running multiple sites across the UK.

Operators should be rushing out to discover which food waste equipment is best suited to their business — instead there is a good chance they’ll be left bamboozled, says Gary Barnabus, product manager at IMC.

He explains: “There is still this huge grey area of uncertainty among operators, particularly the question: ‘are food waste disposers banned?’ There is also a mixed message coming from so-called independent experts on this very same matter.

“In general, we see our main task as education before any talk of a sale can take place. Operators are just very confused over what options are firstly available and secondly best for them.”

IMC remains hopeful that operators will eventually come to embrace food waste management in the same matter-of-fact way they do recycling.

For that to change, operators need to stop viewing it as a cost and instead look at how it can support their business.

“Although we are seeing perceptions change, people are still reluctant to put their hand in their pocket to invest in a longer-term solution,” he admits.

“They see it as a necessary evil on the same line as grease traps and such like. What is needed is a change in legislation that is properly policed, coupled with incentive schemes to really kick the changes off.”

Certainly there is a gap that needs to be bridged between getting operators to accept they require an effective waste management policy and then investing in the equipment they need.

“The majority of foodservice operations that have issues with food waste handling and removal from kitchen and food preparation areas acknowledge that they have an issue,” remarks Bill Downie, MD at Meiko.

“However, when it comes to investing in equipment and introducing a full-cycle solution that will deal with the issue, due to the capital cost involved and no visible short-term return on the initial investment, they resort to manual handling without full consideration to the hidden costs.”

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One of the challenges that Downie cites is the hugely diverse nature of the foodservice landscape. Larger catering organisations may have a sustainability manager at group level and will be well clued up on the appliances or solutions required to reach their goals.

In contrast, smaller groups or independents may have a high level of understanding of the options available but face constraints in respect of physical space or capital investment.

“Organisations like The Sustainable Restaurant Association have become a valuable source of information for the smaller operators, not only in how to deal with food waste but in how to reduce waste in the first place by introducing smarter purchasing and stock control,” suggests Downie.

Peter Galliford, commercial director at Mechline, proprietor of the Waste 2-0 biodigester, says there cannot be any business out there that can afford to literally throw money away on food waste, but suggests the reality of the true costs are not yet being recognised by the industry.

He insists there is a “great deal of confusion” within the sector as to how to respond for the best.

“Wrap continues to support the waste hierarchy which challenges the industry to look at its operations and reduce the incidence of food waste wherever possible, however this is completely contrary to the AD fraternity who would have us create as much food waste as possible to guarantee the feedstock for a growing number of AD plants which are also subsidised by the government. How is a responsible food waste producer supposed to react to such contrary messages?

“Although AD certainly has its place, the waste producer must be able to make their own choice as to what method is the most economic and viable for their business as there are now better options than ever before.”

Manufacturers seem in agreement that hesitance among purchasers is one of the major barriers to stronger adoption of heavy duty food waste management systems.

Glen Crossland, marketing manager at Dawson, UK distributor of the Rendisk dewatering line, says that when it comes to food waste equipment, operators are unlikely to make a snap decision.

“We have found that operators are reluctant to jump into a solution without careful consideration and cost evaluations,” he says.

“Of course, if food waste management weren’t needed, end-users wouldn’t entertain the idea at all. The fact of the matter is, by handling your waste in a sustainable and controlled manner, a company can save money in the long term.”

Dawson now provides ‘cost in use models’ and ‘pay back charts’ to illustrate how cost effective its solutions are and make the purchasing decision less difficult. The simple fact of the matter, says Crossland, is that operators know more about the food waste topic than the equipment itself.

“There are many solutions out there that use different techniques; costs and lifetime pay back schedules. It’s extremely important that end-users understand which solution will work for them. Luckily for them, there are many different options to choose from and more information on equipment is readily available.”

It is certainly difficult to escape the notion that many operators still remain confused by the subject.

Those who have implemented solutions for more than two or three years should have a clear idea of what has worked and what hasn’t, but those new to the game face trying to determine which solutions provide the most operational, financial and environmental benefits.

Martin Allen, project manager at First Choice’s Environmental Solutions division, says: “I still feel that the capital expense gives many operators major concerns and in many instances there is a reluctance to move away from old-style waste management until they are forced to do so.

“Certain types of waste separation for recycling purposes are certainly nothing new and for most operators very well understood; when it comes to food waste, though, you are very limited in what you can do with it, so the disposal cost is a real operational and financial headache.

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“At the moment, many operators certainly don’t see food waste solutions the same way as general catering equipment purchases because it’s not actually making money for them and putting profit on to the bottom line,” he adds.

Distributors will be as important to the ongoing education process that needs to take place as the equipment brands themselves.

Barnabus at IMC, for instance, says there is a “core of dealers” which work with the company that truly see the benefits of the systems available, but he cautions that many are still unwilling to push recycling systems if the equipment has not been specified.

“Again, the focus is on the education of the consultants and specifiers in order to promote this top down approach.”

Allen at First Choice, which markets the EnviroPure food waste elimination system, thinks the work being done by the likes of CESA and CEDA is invaluable in moving the food waste discussion forward and making users think more carefully about their responsibilities.

“Informed views from respected consultants and key facilities management personnel is a key factor to increasing the spotlight on waste management issues,” he comments.

The dealer channel’s relationship with food waste certainly makes for an interesting case study. In most instances, especially where the big systems costing thousands of pounds are involved, a four-way discussion between manufacturer, designer, distributor and operator is required.

Mechline calls its approach to designing and delivering bespoke solutions for integrated food waste reduction programmes a “collaborative” one.

Peter Galliford says distributors enjoy good access to ongoing sales given that its Waste 2-0 system is both specified and retro-fitted.

“As the designer and manufacturer, we are very proactive in working with distributors and consultants in delivering the best customer experience possible through the ongoing R&D of products and programmes specifically designed to help the foodservice industry reduce operating costs and become more environmentally responsible.

“We certainly need to see the sector gaining much more awareness of the real costs and a real drive to reduce our impact on global resources.”

Meiko says that its traditional food waste disposer units continue to be specified and installed by a number of its distributors. When it comes to the larger integrated one-way food removal and tank storage solutions, it endeavours to work closely with both the specification and installation.

“The majority of the larger, complete design-to-install kitchen schemes will come from the desks of the professional foodservice consultants and they would generally work with localised food waste handling products such as localised standalone dewaterers or waste-to-water machines,” says Bill Downie.

“There are exceptions to the rule and we have, in the past, worked hand in hand with foodservice consultants on projects where the clients have expressed a preference for installing an integrated and sustainable solution rather than a localised solution.”

Given that Wrap has labelled food waste a “problem” for the industry, it is inevitable that the purse strings of operators will loosen as time goes on. For no matter the level of reticence, market forces will ensure the elephant in the room can only be avoided for so long.

“The issues of FOG and waste-to-drain problems has meant whether caterers like it or not, it’s a topic that isn’t going away any time soon,” says Crossland at Dawson. “Legislation has been passed in Scotland and we can only see the rest of the UK following the same path.”

 

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