Waste Not, Want Not

Sodexo’s global strategy on reducing waste across its vast estate is taking form and promises to be a benchmark for foodservice businesses in the battle of the waste bulge.


Just over a year ago Sodexo published its ‘Better Tomorrow Plan’, the company’s global sustainability strategy. Covering the Sodexo estate in 80 countries with 33,900 sites and 380,000 employees, the ‘Better Tomorrow Plan’ has milestones in 2012, 2015 and 2020 addressing three core pillars – nutrition, health and wellness, local communities and environment. One of the biggest challenges to be faced is addressing waste.


But how can Sodexo successfully align its global strategies on waste between countries as diverse as the UK, Europe and the US, newly rich countries like China and India and emerging nations in Africa and elsewhere? There are obviously substantial variations country to country to be taken into account. According to Thomas Jelley, Sodexo Corporate Citizenship Manager, UK and Ireland, the strategy is unified at the highest level across the company but when it gets down to grass roots, Sodexo’s approach is to “think globally but act locally”. In practice this necessitates interpreting local needs and acknowledging that no one size fits all.


He queries assumptions that Western nations are necessarily more advanced when it comes to food waste saying that data suggests there is a very long way to go in the UK. In WRAP’s ‘Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK’ report, published in November 2009, it found the UK alone generates 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink waste annually. Most of this is avoidable and could have been eaten if only we had planned, stored and managed it better. Less than one fifth is truly unavoidable – things like bones, cores and peelings.


We throw away food for two main reasons: 2.2 million tonnes is thrown away due to cooking, preparing or serving too much and a further 2.9 million tonnes is thrown away because it was not used in time and the food has gone off. The report goes on to say: “All this wasted food is costly; in the UK we spend £12 billion every year buying and then throwing away good food. That works out at £480 for the average UK household, increasing to £680 a year for households with children – an average of just over £50 a month.


“Throwing away food that could have been eaten is responsible for the equivalent of 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year – that’s the same as the CO2 emitted by one in every four cars on UK roads. It’s not just the methane that’s released when the food goes to landfill that’s the problem, but also the energy spent producing, storing and transporting the food to us,” says the report.


A subsidiary WRAP report published at the same time, ‘Down the Drain’, estimates individual types of food and drink disposed of down the drain in the greatest quantities are milk, then carbonated soft drinks, followed by fruit juice and smoothies and that costs consumers £2.7 billion annually.


Although the reports cover domestic waste, they are a good indicator of what is happening here. Quite simply, we as a nation are profligate with waste and Jelley says that before we start looking elsewhere in the world and pointing the finger we should take a long hard look at ourselves.


A significant change of diet in China and India among some economic classes includes higher meat and dairy consumption that concerns some, but ingrained behaviour in the traditional industrial nations that may be the hardest to change is also under the spotlight. Some people in the UK for example display an “I am used to it, I am entitled to it” culture. We go to the supermarket and are quite used to getting food from anywhere at a competitive price. This has only really happened over the past 15 years and we are now also used to obtaining unseasonal foods throughout the year, think this is normal, and therefore perhaps value it less and so waste more. We have to challenge that mindset, says Jelley, who believes behaviour change may be easier to manage in emerging countries because they haven’t yet become embedded in the same range of bad habits.


London was the host city for the Expert Forum on Reduction of Food Waste, in February 2010, organised by the UK Science and Innovation Network in collaboration with Foresight which heard how the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project looks to 2050 seeking to answer the question ‘How can a global population of 9 billion people be fed healthily and sustainably?’ it estimated 40 per cent of the total food produced globally is wasted. It addressed the situation in Brazil, India, China, Russia (BRIC), East- European countries and Thailand and compared past OECD trajectories with emerging BRIC trends.


Jelley says: “The Forum reported that countries at different stages of industrialisation waste food at different stages of the supply chain. Emerging countries tend to waste more food earlier in the chain while in the UK we waste more at the consumer stage. Sodexo’s own waste working group, formally launched in May 2010, has conducted its own research on waste management in Brazil, India and China and we now have projects under way relying on customer and employee engagement. Awareness raising is a concept that would not be alien to any business in the UK and is driving a high level of interest. The crux here is to ‘rethink, reduce, recover and recycle’ globally.


“The waste working group has wide ranging representation from our businesses in the UK, US, Canada, France, India, South America and Australia. We have a mandate at group level and we hold a monthly conference call with an in-person meeting scheduled for early 2011. We have identified and agreed a set of key objectives across the Sodexo estate to identify best practice to reduce, recover and recycle and we will be sharing this information across the Group. We will also be analysing data garnered from the various schemes globally,” says Jelley.


An audit was carried out at site level in March-June 2010 (with data gathered from 10,000 sites worldwide – 933 of these sites in the UK alone). Site managers were asked about their practices such as whether composting is an option, what steps are being taken to reduce waste and recover it. They are providing Sodexo with invaluable data. “I have been told that is the first time this has been done in foodservice. It means we can now look at trends and analyse our strengths and weaknesses. It is important that we communicate our findings both internally and externally and keep reviewing our waste KPI, redefining and reviewing the various initiatives,” says Jelley.


Ultimately the group provides the guidelines and the individual sites are relied on to take action. Sodexo is now in the process of publishing its “What can I do?” guide for waste for dissemination at site level which is also being translated into French and Spanish.


However there are some pitfalls to be aware of, says Jelley. “Beware of too much too soon,” he warns. “Establishing baselines and conducting audits helps here. Ask questions, amass data and analyse best practice.“