INTERVIEW with Cyrus Todiwala

Foodservice Footprint Cyrus-Todiwala-200x300 INTERVIEW with Cyrus Todiwala Features Interviews: Industry professionals  Waste sustainable restaurant saving energy reduce waste Cyrus Todiwala Cafe Spice Namaste


Q. Cyrus, I find your knowledge and passion inspiring. Where does your drive on sustainable issues come from?


Flattery will get you nowhere! However, I have to say that my concern with sustainability and sustainable issues stems from a passion acquired during childhood in India, growing up in an environment that never had enough of what we in the West simply take for granted. Just seeing the colossal amount of waste and total disregard for the environment as well as the sheer ignorance of the citizenry is enough to give you drive and passion to pursue smaller initiatives in your own way. Eventually through your own efforts you might convert a few who in turn might convert another few and so on. This starts with my family – all of whom hate me no end with my tireless needling to conserve and to waste less.


Q. You have mentioned in the past that in India, people would pay you to take your waste away. Tell us more about how India could set an example to us?


Not only in the past, even now you would get paid for your waste in India. Newspapers, empty bottles, used clothes and cloths, pots and pans, used wood, scrap iron/steel, wood, aluminium, cardboard and cartons are all paid for by the waste collectors. People are very careful about how they store their valuable rubbish – scrap buyers come to your doorstep asking for rubbish to buy or exchange for new goods. I firmly believe that had India been a thousand miles closer to the UK I would become a millionaire just selling scrap from the UK. It is a stupid system we have here and I don’t know why there is no incentive for people to dispose of their useful rubbish effectively. Restaurants and hotels and other foodservice outlets pay hefty amounts to have their rubbish cleared and those that are are environmentally conscious end up paying much, much more thereby annihilating any incentive an individual might have to be caring towards our environment. The collectors, however, make massive profits since they sell on your rubbish by the tonnage and charge you for collecting it as well.


Companies contracted by councils and others involved in waste collection should be made competitive! They should be made to collect free if not actually buy the rubbish. That way everyone will make sure that they put their rubbish

out as carefully as they can and not mix and pile randomly. We have far too many regulations that put far too many limitations on the collector, the disposer – all the way down the food and waste chain. This makes effective removal a chore and costs heavy.


Q. You recently gave your views on waste, which is not exclusively about rubbish, but which you say could also encompass this cup of coffee or glass of water [interviewer pointing at his cup of coffee and glass of water]. Can you explain what you mean?


Sadly, most of us look at waste in a naive way narrowing it down to actual, physical, visible waste. Waste is everywhere for us to see – and control. A simple napkin picked up at a fast food outlet creates waste. I always see people take huge wads of them and then dump them in

the bin. Sachets of ketchup are taken in excess of requirements and then dumped. It is sheer IGNORANCE!!


As for the colossal waste of kitchen towels in our kitchens – don’t even go there! We have an obsession for pulling pull out metres of the stuff to simply wipe a small drop of water or dry our hands. Leaving a tap on or not fixing a dripping one is to me CRIMINAL WASTAGE.


Water to me is the scarcest and the most valuable of all our natural resources. We must be not only passionate about saving, conserving and being totally aware of it, we must realise that it is also diminishing in scary proportions. I have suffered as a consequence of failed monsoons, growing up as I have in semi-arid regions. We used to become desperate for the police water tanker to arrive with our fresh supplies. Yes – police tankers as that was the only way to control desperate people making a mad rush and fighting for extra water.


Just think about the several thousand glasses of water left half full in restaurants. IMAGINE how much water that amounts to? How many of us fill the kettle with just the amount we require? All the documentaries I see on TV about soaring gas prices and the elderly show gas burners in all their glory; kettles being filled to their maximum capacity; taps left running whilst the cameraman gets a perfect shot – all these are hideous crimes being committed by reporters who are effectively nullifying the very issue they are trying to publicise. And it doesn’t stop with water: gas burners left on, cookers glowing, ovens left on indefinitely are a mad waste of resources as are lights burning when not needed.


Q. You also feel strongly about electricity and gas?


In Britain alone we are discussing all the time about the shortage of electricity and gas. In my eighteen years here I have seen it being discussed hundreds of thousands of times. BUT what do we do? Nothing!


All we discuss is pricing. But if everyone just became more aware of the waste, the emissions, the money they are wasting things will change for sure. If you go to install a new bathroom for instance the top end stuff is always highly recommended and that ensemble is always the most wasteful in every respect, water, electricity and gas for your boiler – plus it is the most expensive to install. GREAT! Oh, I can go on and on and on and not tire of this.


Q. You are instrumental in the London Waste Committee – tell us more about this set up?


I am a member of the London Food Board and am trying to set up for the very first time a Sub-Committee for Waste which will hopefully bring together collective thought from research and experience on how best London can minimise its commercial waste and effluents. The idea is to pool resources and brain cells and to advise on a steadfast strategy, which will, help London handle the colossal waste and emission problems beyond 2012. The whole idea is to see how best we can lead London into converting its bio-degradable waste into compost or bio fuel and how this can be achieved by anaerobic means. We also need to be giving members of our industry wider ideas on how best they can achieve, or come closer to achieving, a zero waste environment. We aim to help the Government set targets; identify the complete chain or circle from start to finish; encourage suppliers and waste creators (our suppliers) to help our industry become the leading light in waste minimisation. The task is immense I know and I am aware that some of the committee members will get bored and leave but we have to keep plodding on. I hope I might get hold of some funding to see this through. At the moment there is no funding and it is extremely difficult for me to fund it all, especially since we have very meagre funds ourselves and to keep hosting the meetings, plus all the related charges, as well as ask our friend Gina to keep giving up her time pro-bono to the Secretariat work is very likely to take its toll eventually. This, plagued by constraints on my own time, is a huge task really. However, I stepped forward and I hope that we can achieve a great deal before I can’t afford it any more.


Q. How much support do you need?


PLENTY! From industry bodies, our trade press and from national Government and local councils as well! Without support and commitment from everyone we will have hit our heads against a brick wall. I need trade bodies to use their muscle to influence the change we all need.


Our industry is always made to look rather bad and we need to be the shining light in all these issues, particularly since we are major creators of waste in every form. Schools and colleges need to lend support by influencing their students from day one on conservation, waste minimisation and eco-friendly methodology.


Q. Obviously, the general consensus is that foodservice is receiving very little help

from the Government. You have far more experience in this. How much support have you had from Government at national and regional level?


Governments have their own agendas on how much or how little they wish to support. Let’s not forget that all of this costs money and allocation of funds is the key. However when times are tough and money is needed elsewhere one will find that support wanes and waxes like the moon. There are several streams of Government funding going into several projects, the problem sometimes is no one knows the various initiatives and often the organisations involved within those initiatives themselves don’t know and end up duplicating work.


This leads to waste of time, effort and energy and above all money. I do not personally go and approach the Government for help and support – I would not know the first thing I would need to do! However if Government approached someone like me and asked what it would take to set something up that Britain can be proud of, YES! I know enough extremely clever and dedicated people who would bring a breath of very fresh air to this approach and help in setting up something that could last a long time.


Q. You are very vocal on these subjects. Do you find it frustrating that not as many are as active as they should be?


Now you are hitting me below the belt here! You know where I stand and where we all should stand. Sadly lack of realisation, education, commitment, finance and enthusiasm are all issues that confront us. Affordability is another issue in many cases and quite simply the fact that the Government itself doesn’t recognise these issues as a primary concern for the nation is sometimes the reason for our lack of understanding as to where this may lead in the future.


Q. Finally, can you give me a prediction of where foodservice should be in terms of waste in five years?


Foodservice has to lead the way. Ideally, in five years time, if we all act collectively we will get manufacturers, producers and collectors all listening and doing exactly what we wish them to do which is to help us to create a zero waste community of end users.