Waste has emerged as one of the defining sustainability issues of our modern food system. Research shows that the foodservice and hospitality industry alone disposes of 920,000 tonnes of food waste every year, of which 75% is avoidable. With food waste costing on average £250m a year in the education sector – an area which already operates under tight margins – taking a few simple steps to reduce food waste has the potential to make an enormous impact on university catering departments. At TUCO, our members are leading the way in sustainable practice and are implementing their own innovative food waste reduction initiatives, which match the demands and requirements of their institutions and student population. By taking a proactive approach, many TUCO members are seeing increased profitability through simple yet effective methods such as adjusting portion control, growing their own produce and imbedding new CSR values into their working practices. Take Swansea University, for example, which conducted a review of its catering operations to identify the key factors contributing towards its food waste levels. The results included the over-filling of plates and preparation of too much food. By reducing the size of its service plates and batch cooking closer to serving time to determine customer demand, the university saw a 20% reduction in food waste, translating to a total of £9,500 in yearly savings.
Manchester University developed an award-winning food waste reduction scheme following the results of a survey of ‘catered’ students. The results found that 88% would use facilities to recycle food waste if they were made readily available. In response to this, the university introduced a food waste-only recycling system, which is then treated and used to produce gas for energy and fertiliser for crops.
I believe the future of sustainability is bright, with many organisations already looking to the WRAP Courtauld 2025 voluntary agreement as a stepping stone towards widespread food waste reduction schemes. As an industry, we produce greater results when we work together and are lucky to have a strong network of individuals willing to bring about change. The innovation and knowledge sharing that is currently taking place around food waste solutions in the higher education sector is a great example of this. Of course, there is still a long way to go, but by working together caterers can develop best practice when it comes to reducing their overall impact on the environment and combating food waste.”