The food waste revolution

It is one of the greatest paradoxes of society today: the amount of food waste grows unchecked, while more than 828 million people go hungry worldwide. As a large generator of waste, the hospitality industry is part of the problem, although it is getting its act together. In this fight, technology is a big help, and how…

By Marta Renovales, a journalist with

Let’s admit it: the hospitality industry is a huge consumer of resources and waste generator. In fact, the industry generates around 734,200 tonnes of waste per year, according to a 2022 study by Facyre , the first such report on waste management in the sector. And although many establishments are already at work on reducing, recycling and reusing, there is still a long road ahead.

Food makes up a big part of the waste being generated. According to a report produced by a team of chefs from Unilever Food Solutions, it is calculated that one Spanish restaurant throws out 745 kg of food per year.

The Facyre report makes it patently clear: bars and restaurants are responsible for nearly two-thirds of non-consumed food that ends up in the rubbish. It is not just a moral responsibility, but also legal: industry professional need to take into account the new law to combat food waste, which will fine them for throwing food out, just like that.

The key to effective waste management is the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. It’s not enough to take bottles to the glass bin or offer customers to take home their unfinished meal in a box. It is a wholesale change in management, a complex process, which includes how food is purchased and stored; the way it is prepared, calculating the right amounts; how ingredients are controlled, prioritising those closest to their expiry date; how portions are adjusted, to avoid too much leftover food; and finally, how waste products are managed. Hardly anything at all.

In short, it is a process that affects the entire operation of an establishment and should be done not only for environmental, ethical and legal reasons, but also for the simple profitability of the business itself. “The incorporation of management plans is key to restaurant food waste; what’s more, with the high expense of food preparation these days, the economic sustainability of the establishments themselves is getting more and more complicated,” notes Pello Cruz, Lead Chef at Unilever Food Solutions.

In fact, three years ago, the catering division of Unilever launched an app to help manage restaurant waste, StopMermas ), to provide a totally customised audit for each hospitality business and has become an essential tool for many professionals. Quickly and intuitively, this highly useful tool helps convert food waste into profit.

Help from technology

What’s true is that hotels, bars and restaurants need technological tools to minimise their food waste, and this technology is a reality, for example, in supplier orders. “Digitalisation prevents errors and makes for an exact order, avoiding food waster in the HoReCa channel,” notes Oriol Reull, General Manager at Choco España .

Choco’s software digitalise orders and communications between restaurants and their suppliers; a market that represents nearly 7.5 billion euros in Spain, where most transactions occur with pencil and paper or via WhatsApp.

This translates into a lack of data in real time, the opacity of the supply chains and an imbalance between supply and demand. These are inefficiencies which cause, on average, some 1,300 million kilos of food to go to waste in our country every year.

More and more tech companies are putting hospitality companies and suppliers in touch. The Italian firm Deliveristo, a recent arrival in Spain, is also bringing hospitality and suppliers together.

The hotel buffet, the place with the most food waste

It’s not just restaurants: talking of food waste inevitably brings us to the hotel buffet, the place where most food is wasted, according to a survey of the employees of the hotel Playa Garden Selection Hotel & Spa, conducted by ITH. It is specifically dinner service where most gets discarded.

Here is where technology, artificial intelligence in particular, becomes the hotelier’s best ally. This is the case of Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, which has installed the Winnow system in 48 of its more than 100 hotels, thus achieving a 28% drop in food waste in the first half of the current year.

How does it work? Winnow is an innovative system using artificial intelligence technology that, implemented in the kitchens, recognises exactly what is thrown out, what is saved and how better decisions can be taken based on actual daily data.

Apps against waste

Managing the sale or donation of food or unconsumed products with specialised applications is a rising trend among hospitality establishments, which are being adopted more and more, largely because users see in them a key advantage: savings.

Too Good To Go is a Danish mobile app now found in 17 countries which allows restaurants, supermarkets and other establishments to see their daily food surplus. Interested consumers can “salvage” or acquire packs with this food at a low price and thus keep them from being thrown out. It came to Spain in September 2018 and now has a community of 6.5 million users and over 18,000 establishments, of which more than 7,800 are from the hospitality industry.

The app has received a warm welcome by the industry, where more and more companies are seeking out sustainability strategies. It is used by hotel chains (NH, Barceló, Meliá, Ilunion, Petit Palace…), independent restaurants and chains (Domino’s Pizza, Vips, La Tagliatella…).

How it works is truly simple. Each day, the hotel/restaurant prepares “surprise packs” with the day’s leftovers and offers it on the app at a much lower price, up to 70% of its original value. The user reserves it and pays through the application, going to the establishment at the time indicated on the app.

The contents of the packs vary each day according to the surplus food; this can be food left over from the breakfast buffet to any other meal that could not be consumed that day.

The philosophy is very similar to the French app Phenix, whose management goes a step further: all those products that have not been taken away through the application but are still in perfect conditions, are delivered to social relief organisations.

The Spanish app Encantado de Comerte also “salvages” leftover food or that nearing its expiry date in lots which are posted with a minimum of 50% discount; the user only has to choose their favourite lot through the app and pass by the establishment to pick it up.

Wrap it up to go, please

But apps are not alone: more and more consumers find it okay to ask the restaurant or bar to let them take home their unfinished meal. That said, one thing is intention and another fact: although a rising trend of requesting to take home unconsumed food is being detected, the Facyre study concludes that this only occurs in 37.1% of hospitality businesses. 

In June 2022, the draft Law on the Prevention of Food Loss and Waste was approved, the first regulation on this issue enacted in Spain, affecting the entire food chain, including hospitality establishments. With the new law, hospitality companies have the obligation to inform and facilitate that the consumer can bring home, at no additional cost, the food they have not consumed, and to do so, they must have suitable food containers which are reusable or easily recyclable.

Aware of this, more and more hoteliers are making a conscious decision as to the materials of their containers, as well as trying out new alternatives to plastic. At Hostelco we will see the latest new products and trends in single-use sustainable containers, from companies such as Packandwood, Betik, Encantado de Comerte, García de Pou, Tecnopacking, Effimer… Also presenting their sustainable packaging solutions will be firms such as Massegur; Enva Experto or the French company Solia, plus many more.

The Facyre study indicates that 49.9% of food waste is thrown out; 29% is distributed to social causes; 18.9% is used by the company itself; and 1.7% is resold through apps. There is still a long road ahead, and more so taking into account that in 2020 alone 1,364 million kilos of food went to waste in Spain.