When will the penny drop?

FOOD WASTE recycler PDM is hoping to convince more hospitality businesses to separate their food waste. It won’t be easy, but there’s £90m riding on it.

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It might feel that there’s a war being waged on restaurants and foodservice companies to cut food waste. “Chefs are not working hard enough to cut waste,” is a common criticism. “Restaurants need to separate their food waste,” is often the advice. “Portions are too big,” is another observation.


The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) is one of those pushing businesses to wake up to waste. “Restaurants are literally throwing money away,” it says, with food waste just an “inevitable part of this industry”. Inevitable, and expensive.


However, it’s not easy to convince businesses to change, especially the smaller ones. For a start, separating food waste will not immediately save money – food is a heavy waste stream and achieving cost efficient collections from numerous small businesses isn’t easy. There’s also the change in mindset to consider.


“What we’re really selling is a much bigger thing” than a new bin for food waste, says Dean Pearce, the commercial manager (south-east) for the food waste recycler PDM. Separating food waste is invariably “also about behaviour change”, which is very difficult to encourage, he says.


PDM has a vested interest in doing just that. The company has announced that it’s spending £90m on its operations in the next 18 months. This includes £44m on new anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities in Widnes and Dagenham, to add to the one in Doncaster. The sites will generate energy for homes or fuel for transport, but they need thousands of tonnes of food waste to ensure the sums add up. That’s where hospitality and foodservice businesses come in: food waste from the smaller companies in the sector is an abundant and largely untapped feedstock (see also Footprint April, p4 on line).


“Manufacturers and retailers have been very good at handling their food waste for a number of years”, so PDM is targeting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in foodservice and hospitality, Pearce says.


According to WRAP, the sector as a whole produces about 600,000 tonnes of food waste a year. Unilever and the SRA have calculated that 65% of that is from preparation, but the rest is largely avoidable. That means there’s plenty for PDM and its new waste plants, but Pearce says the plan isn’t just to snaffle as much food waste as possible. In fact, he’s actively trying to encourage businesses to reduce their food waste – a perverse situation given that feedstock supply is the principle risk element in the financial model of many AD plants. “You can’t be a credible business in the waste sector if you don’t talk about waste prevention,” he says. Even the unavoidable share of that 600,000 tonnes “gives us a hell of a lot of food waste to go at”.


He adds: “For restaurants, food waste represents between 8 and 10% of their total costs.” Reducing that by a third would save a significant amount.


Pearce is hoping that more hospitality SMEs understand this. He admits that initially there might not be a saving on waste fees by separating food waste, but financial benefits will come. “We’re selling SMEs a much bigger picture,” he says, adding that “99.9%” of restaurants don’t know how much food waste they are generating. “The most important step of having a separate collection for food waste is that the business can see what it’s generating and then they can take steps to reduce it. That’s where the biggest savings will be for businesses.”


Clean Break

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Many recyclers empty food waste bins, which has given rise to the perception that separate food waste collections are dirty, smelly and unhygienic. PDM uses a “bin swap” system so full bins are collected, taken away and clean bins put in their place.