One in every six meals created is being chucked in the bin even though three-quarters of this food waste was perfectly good to eat.
It’s a startling revelation but one that campaign group Wrap says perfectly illustrates the extent of the issue facing the foodservice sector.
“Throwing food away costs much more than just the waste disposal bill; there is the cost of the food itself, the fuel in cooking and the time staff take to prepare it and throw it away,” wrote Wrap in a recent report. "How much money would be thrown away if a 180-litre wheelie bin was filled with food waste every week? Each one would cost around £200 — multiply this by 52 weeks and it comes to nearly £10,500 a year — money that could be saved by doing a few things differently.”
In 2012, Wrap created a voluntary programme called the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement with the aim of supporting the sector in reducing waste and recycling more. The organisation set two targets: a prevention target sets out to reduce food and associated packaging waste by 5% by the end of 2015; a waste management target aims to increase the overall rate of food and packaging waste being recycled, sent to anaerobic digestion (AD) or composted to at least 70% by the end of 2015.
Scotland has gone further than the rest of the United Kingdom, and has already announced legislation to tackle the food waste issue. From 1 January 2016, any organisation that produces food waste will have a duty to ensure that it is not deposited into a public drain or sewer, even if it first goes through a macerator. Systems which remove water from food waste so that it can be collected as a solid will be allowed, but only if the loss of solid matter to sewers is minimal.
In addition, Scotland believes that fat, oils and grease cause the majority of drain blockages and further legislation is underway to deal with this specific problem.
The rest of the UK is keeping a keen eye on moves in Scotland, although there is still an active debate over the effectiveness of the prescribed new regulations on the use of macerators.
“Research has shown that kitchen food waste when macerated and mixed with cold water to flush the food waste into the sewerage system causes no build-up of fat accumulation on the walls of sewers, nor do they cause any detrimental effect to the sewerage system or create additional loading for the waste water treatment works,” says Bill Downie, managing director of Meiko, which in addition to the GTS tank food waste collection system, now offers a lower cost option for smaller catering operations that prefer to work with wheeled waste bins.
Banning the disposal of macerated waste into sewers cuts out one option for commercial kitchens, just at a time when sending food to landfill is also getting more expensive and more tightly regulated. “Traditional food waste disposers are probably the safest and simplest way of dealing with food waste issues and can still deliver substantial savings in waste disposal costs, but how much longer we will be able to use them is another question,” warns Downie.
Composting is a centuries-old solution to the food waste problem, and hi-tech solutions are making it considerably more efficient for the modern commercial kitchen.
IMC is one of the UK’s leading evangelists for the technique, and markets its own on-site In Vessel Composter (IVC), which takes food waste that has been macerated and dewatered and turns it into commercial grade compost in around six weeks. An installation would include a macerator, a dewaterer and a composter.
IMC offers the WasteStation food waste processor and very recently launched the WastePro II. “The main aims of this equipment is to provide a cost-effective, simple solution to the problem of food waste, while at the same time turn a waste product into a valuable resource rather than dispose of the waste to drain or landfill,” says product manager, Gary Barnabas.
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Dawson’s food waste management is based on the Solus Eco from Rendisk, which launched in January. The standalone system sees food waste loaded into a hopper. It is then ground and dewatered using a centrifugal technique. As a result, volume is reduced by up to 80%, which lowers removal costs for the operator.
“We see the process of dewatering the most effective method of processing food waste for a number of reasons,” explains marketing manager, Glen Crossland. “The Solus Eco is capable of handling up to 450kg of food waste per hour, and also we have a larger system called the Flex WasteDispo which is suitable for larger establishments such as hospitals and large food outlets. This system can handle up to 900kg per hour providing a much higher volume of processing.”
Ian Cresswell, business development director at Mechline, is concerned about the shrinking range of waste disposal options for caterers.
“With a potential ban on food waste going to landfill very much on the horizon, greater emphasis is being placed on finding viable alternatives. Increasing legislation both at home and abroad will set the agenda for food waste management going forward. However, there is a great danger that legislation will narrow the field of options available to food waste producers who clearly have very different requirements,” he fears.
Mechline promotes the use of food waste digesters, which use natural micro-organisms to break down food. Its Waste2O unit digests up to 180kg of food waste in a 24-hour period, leaving nothing but grey water that can be drained via the building’s own drains for foul water. It does not rely on typical composting methods to decompose food nor does it macerate the food. “It virtually leaves no solids to manage so it is safe for drains,” says Cresswell.
The future direction of legislation on reducing and recycling food waste is vital for the foodservice industry but, south of Scotland, is currently hard to predict. If sending food waste to landfill is banned or taxed at prohibitive rates, then outlets will have to find ways of processing waste on site.
Dewatering can reduce the volume of waste, but not eradicate it. Maceration currently allows waste to be flushed away, but regulation might ban this. Maceration, dewatering and then composting or digestion is arguably the most comprehensive solution, and almost certain to remain an option no matter what the UK or EU regulators impose. This may not be what hard-pressed restaurateurs want to hear, but it creates massive opportunities for sophisticated installations for the dealer community.
Helping operators choose the solution that is most suited to their business could literally see dealers turning rubbish into revenues.
School kitchens ‘behind on new waste rules’
Nine out of 10 commercial kitchens in Scotland still haven’t amended their waste practices despite most admitting they are aware of new waste regulations now in force.
Waste recovery specialist Olleco says research it has carried out shows that 87% of kitchens know they need to adhere to the regulations governing waste separation, but 93% haven’t yet done anything about it yet. The survey also revealed that although 93% of respondents intend to amend their waste practices to comply with the new regulations at some point in 2014, only 34% had actually taken any action as of the end of January.
The survey results come at a time when rumours are circulating that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) will be heavily enforcing the new regulations this summer, initially targeting large producers of waste, via trained Environmental Health Inspectors, as part of food hygiene inspections.
Businesses that fail this aspect of the inspections could face a criminal conviction and a fine of up to £10,000 if they have ‘no reasonable excuse’ for not complying with the new Waste (Scotland) Regulations that have been brought in.
Vincent Igoe, head of Olleco Scotland, said that while the busy Christmas and New Year period may have led operators to park the issue, they need to act now to avoid the summer blitz and the stiff penalties for non-compliance that could be imposed.
“I was not that surprised to discover that most businesses were aware of the new Regulations; however, it does worry me that, as we are now in March, only a third of Scotland’s many commercial kitchens have put new practices in place,” he said.
More than 60% of businesses interviewed by Olleco confessed they did not believe that complying with the new regulations would result in cost savings for the business. However, Olleco suggests that the opposite could be true and that the average kitchen could potentially reduce their waste collection charges by up to £500 a year.
“Doing nothing is not really an option for kitchens now,” said Igoe. “If they contaminate their dry waste with food, they will face penalties from their dry waste collector, as they in turn will incur fines for the disposal of food waste at landfill. As a result, costs can very quickly mount up for those businesses that put off getting compliant.
“For many operators, the biggest opposition they perceive is lack of space, however the separation of waste into different bins should not require additional space as the number of general waste bins will be reduced. The challenge is more likely to be training staff to segregate waste correctly.”