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Ending all-you-can-waste buffets

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Hotels can reduce food waste through ways such as repurposing uneaten items

Breakfast buffets are often a major selling point at hotels, so it is understandable there is fierce competition to offer a seemingly inexhaustible banquet of choice.

The bacon may be lean, but the business model is not. Breakfast buffets are one of the largest sources of food waste in hotels.

Food loss and waste is responsible for about US$940 billion (S$1.25 trillion) in economic losses each year globally. It is responsible for 8 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

In a world where one in nine people are undernourished, the fact that more than one billion tonnes of food never gets consumed is an inequality we have to address.

The amount of food waste generated in Singapore has risen by 40 per cent in the past decade.

And the growing hotel industry - 420 and rising - is contributing to the problem.

It is great to see innovative schemes, such as the one introduced at the Grand Hyatt.

They partnered with Biomax Technologies to install a food-waste management and recycling system on its premises, which will convert all of its food waste into organic fertiliser.

But what can be done to reduce food waste?

I was at an event in Singapore recently looking at this subject.

As one of the sustainability experts in Britain, Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) has been working with businesses on reducing food waste for years. This was a great opportunity to share our views about the power of collaboration.

We launched a report Wrap wrote with the World Resources Institute, which established, for the first time, a compelling business case for reducing food waste in the global hotel industry.


We found for every US$1 hotels invested to reduce kitchen food waste, they saved US$7 in operating costs. Nearly every company achieved a positive return, with the average site reaping a 600 per cent return on investment.

It is a powerful argument to counter what we sometimes hear from businesses - that the associated costs may be buried in operational budgets.

So how can hotel managers achieve impressive results?

Through simple ways like measuring the amount of food thrown away, through tracking sheets or smart scales; conducting food waste inventories; training staff on new food handling and storage procedures and redesigning menus.

It also found strong leadership and a culture of encouraging staff engagement in reducing waste were crucial factors.

And yes, on rethinking the buffet: through strategies such as cooking certain items a la carte near the end of mealtimes, or safely repurposing uneaten food from breakfast to other meals.

At the Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, the management simply better controlled the amounts of each option; giving guests the same choices while reducing food waste.

Overall, they managed a 50 per cent reduction of food waste.

There are lots of tools out there to support the industry.

World Wildlife Fund's Hotel Kitchen toolkit challenges the industry to prevent food waste, donate what cannot be prevented and divert what remains.

To sum up, the recipe for success is: target, measure and act.

Reducing food waste in hotels can be achieved simply and relatively quickly. It can motivate staff and lead to more food redistributed to those who need it.

And it is a triple win; for the environment, food security - and the economy.

The writer is director of development at Wrap(Waste and Resources Action Programme) UK. This article appeared in The Business Times last week.