Written by Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood

Earlier this year, the UK government announced further increases to the established landfill tax rates. Philip Simpson, commercial director of ReFood, explains why food waste recycling – now, more than ever – makes both financial and environmental sense for catering and hospitality businesses.

With the average hospitality business throwing away hundreds of tonnes of spoiled produce and plate scrapings every year, it’s clear that finding effective ways to minimise waste and alleviate disposal costs should be a top priority. Furthermore, with the government’s recent hike in landfill fees (due to rise by £2.55 per tonne year-on-year), businesses that have not seriously explored the option of food waste recycling are set to come under increasing financial pressure.

Restaurants, pubs, contract caterers and cafes have had a rocky 18 months. The impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented, and will continue to impact the sector for months to come. As such, businesses must evaluate every area of their commercial strategy to maximise income and minimise outgoings. Now could be the perfect time to take a fresh look at operations.

In my experience, one of the blind spots of many restaurateurs and catering managers is the way they deal with peelings, scraps, spoiled produce and returned meals. Still too many businesses throw it straight in the bin, when it could be diverted from costly landfill and instead used to generate green energy.

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. While it’s an increasingly large drain on profits, the environmental implications of this wasteful behaviour are even more concerning.

Indeed, food waste left to rot in landfill releases greenhouse gases 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A truly terrifying statistic.

However, by reviewing processes and approaching food waste from the top down, the catering industry can minimise its reliance on landfill and slash waste management costs. What’s more, with research from the Sustainable Restaurant Association suggesting that patrons are more likely to support an ethically-conscious establishment, stepping up sustainability can also drive footfall.

With global climate talks taking place in the UK (COP26) later this year, there is clearly an appetite for sustainability. Making sure people know your business is ‘doing the right thing’ by recycling food waste must make sense – but how do you do it?

At ReFood, we collect unavoidable food waste from hospitality businesses nationwide and recycle it via the anaerobic digestion (AD) process. This harnesses the natural degradation of food by capturing the biogas produced and using it to generate both renewable energy and a sustainable fertiliser; enabling beneficial nutrients to be retained and reinvested right back to the beginning of the food chain.

We try to make sustainability simple – replacing full bins with sanitised ones after every food waste collection, meaning they can even be used in kitchen areas. This removes any worries about ‘smelly’ waste or bin cleaning and ensures the service is completely sanitary. All types of food – be it preparation waste, scraps and even packaged products – can be thrown in the bins, making it straightforward for businesses to implement.

There are huge financial benefits presented by considering waste at every stage of food management and the case for change is incredibly strong. With significant improvements possible with just small changes in habits, the food sector is in a prime position to benefit. Take the Savoy in London for example. This prestigious hotel has been recycling food waste for some time now, saving at least £200 per week on landfill costs, while taking 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year.

It’s a win:win for hard pressed hospitality businesses and caterers – as well as the environment. Businesses can actually save c.50% on waste management costs, while improving their sustainability credentials. As we emerge from lockdown, it could be that landfill costs really can be taken off the menu.