Food waste costs the hospitality industry over $100 billion a year, and over 70% of food waste occurs before it even gets to a customer’s plate. Including the emissions associated with transportation and landfill decay, this food waste creates approximately 4.4 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Traditional thinkers may believe that food waste is an inevitable part of the industry, yet addressing this inefficiency can be a fruitful strategy for both saving the planet and increasing a restaurant or hotel chain’s bottom line.
Broadly speaking, the hospitality industry must navigate several challenges. While guests crave new menu items with innovative and unusual ingredients, it can be difficult to predict the volumes for ordering food, even for very popular restaurants or menu items. Many factors affect whether or not people travel or go out to eat, including the weather and the economy among others. Then, when it comes to shelf life of ingredients, there is no federal regulation for expiration date labeling. Every manufacturer selects what “best by” or “sell by” conventions they follow, so this nonstandard practice results in many items being tossed in the landfill, despite being safe to eat. These two issues can be tackled either by chefs getting creative to utilize as many ingredients as possible or by implementing smarter systems in and around the kitchen. As 2020 nears, there are several food waste tech trends of which hospitality operators need to be aware, including smarter supply chain products, shelf life extending technology, and fuel composed of repurposed food waste.
Given that around 45% of all fruit grown is wasted, products that allows more time for produce to get to properties could have a huge impact. Luckily, these technologies are emerging. For example, Hazel Technologies created a shelf life extender the size of a packet of sugar, which is specifically used in the supply chain during packing and shipping. The extender improves the quality of produce while it is stored by reducing respiration rate and increasing resistance to ethylene. According to Supply Chain Dive, applying sensor technology to increase traceability is another technology that could reduce food waste by at least 5% within the supply chain. These sensors help detect where in the process is going bad and why, in order to optimize operations. In 2020, expect to see more of this type of innovative, waste reduction technology within hospitality supply chain partners.
Extending the shelf life of fresh food is also helpful when the food gets to its final destination. NanoPack is one startup that’s tackling food waste head-on with nanotechnology. Its high-tech food packaging film inhibits microbial growth, improves food safety, and thus reduces food waste by allowing kitchens to keep ingredients longer. Another company seeking to extend produce shelf life is Apeel Sciences. Apeel adds a layer of plant-derived protection to the surface of fresh produce to slow water loss and oxidation — the factors that cause spoilage. While precise inventory management is better for profits and the planet in the long route, as these technologies improve and become more widely available, shelf life extending technology will be a viable option for the hospitality industry for 2020 and beyond.
The last trend to watch is technology that turns waste into energy. With the enormity of the food waste problem growing, some corporations see repurposing food waste into fuel as a win-win. For example, Disney World has a large biogas facility where they take food waste and transform it into electricity through anaerobic digestion. This technology extracts value from food scraps that would otherwise wind up in a landfill, turning it into a productive product. While not every hospitality property can house a large biogas facility, operators can apply the principles of the circular economy to find new uses for items that could have been discarded. Smaller technologies like food waste digesters and dehydrators could be a better option for some facilities to minimize the amount of food waste generated.