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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: More restaurants are weighing the food they throw away and this is why you should care

Neil Barrett

19 Sep 2017

Just as many successful dieters acknowledge the value of measuring and tracking the calorie count of the foods they consume, individual households may soon choose to track the food they’re scraping into the trash each day.

Why will they bother? Because the world loses and wastes 1.3 billion tons of food each year (or about one-third of the food produced for human consumption) and this costs many households hundreds of dollars or more per year.

By measuring, these families will focus attention, increase awareness, and nudge one another toward conscious waste prevention, saving themselves money.

We have ways to go before we have access to technology that can quickly, easily and affordably measure food waste in our homes, but a number of digital measurement and tracking tools in the foodservice world are pioneering the path forward, creating protocols which may soon reach your home.

These tools are already making it easier, more rewarding and even profitable for companies and schools to double down on efforts to curb food waste. Innovative start-up technology solutions such as the LeanPath food waste tracking and analytics platform are proving critical to the momentum currently powering the food waste revolution. The success of these platforms lies not only in increasing efficiencies in tracking waste, but in providing kitchen personnel with a continuously updated and engaging snapshot of problem areas (i.e. opportunities) and, importantly, waste prevention progress.

For example, the LeanPath platform allows kitchen employees to measure food that is being thrown away and to identify why it’s being discarded.

It then reveals to those employees not only the estimated value of the loss but the dollar amount it would cost a company if the same item was thrown out every day for a year, as well as the environmental impact of such waste. For instance, a cafeteria that threw out a tray of pastries at the end of each day might learn that this waste has the same environmental impact as four cars on the road, 3,000 gallons of water and 500 gallons of oil.

There’s nothing like smart technology to put a pile of day-old pastries into perspective.

This process engages front-line foodservice teams in the critical work of food waste prevention, showing them the impact they make daily. The effort required to track wasted food is minimal and the process often inspires front-line workers to recognize they are uniquely positioned to make important change in the world.

On average, kitchens using digital technology measurement tools reduce waste by 50 percent and trim their food cost budgets by as much has 6 percent. Sodexo, which has rolled out a global food waste prevention program called WasteWatch that is being driven by LeanPath, is seeing these sorts of results in action.

In a school in Singapore, for example, a tablet-based Food Waste Smart Meter and digital scale were set up to create a food waste tracking station in a central place in the school’s kitchen. From September 2016 to March 2017, the site disposed of an estimated $47,500 worth of pre- and post-consumer food waste, equal to 12,300 kilograms. By bringing this waste to employees’ attention—not only through the software they utilized but with daily and weekly briefings on progress—the kitchen moved to a cook-to-order approach when possible and adjusted quantities to produce based on demand.

In six months’ time, they tracked a 36 percent decrease in pre-consumer waste and a 35 percent decrease in post-consumer waste. Furthermore, the school involved faculty and students in the project by displaying posters about food waste in the dining hall, sharing monthly performance figures with the school board, and incorporating the topic of food waste into assemblies every two weeks. It’s estimated that the program will help the school save a staggering $50,100 annually.

The focus on school kitchens isn’t unique to Sodexo, which aims to implement waste management programs and actions into all of our sites, including schools, by 2025.

In June 2015, the International Food Waste Coalition unveiled a food waste reduction project called SKOOL that is now working to build a school food value chain, where all players, from the food producers to the kitchen to the consumers, are involved in reducing or avoiding food waste. In its pilot phase, SKOOL was implemented in six schools and six kitchens across France, Italy and the U.K.

From January to July 2016, it recorded 14.3 tons of food waste—the equivalent environmental footprint of 26.6 tons of CO2 emissions or the water equivalent of filling six Olympic-sized swimming pools. During the course of the program, 75 percent of the kitchen and cafeteria staff was trained to measure and report food waste through LeanPath, and almost 2 tons of food waste was avoided.

The SKOOL program’s focus on awareness and measurement was based on research done by ReFED, a data-driven guide for businesses, government, funders and nonprofits to collectively reduce food waste at scale.

In “The Roadmap to Reduce US Food Waste” report, ReFED advised that companies minimize manual measurement of food waste and instead use automated waste tracking and analytics tools, further confirming what we at Sodexo have seen empirically on the field over the seven years we’ve experimented with technology-enabled waste tracking.

Beyond the business case for reducing food waste—and there is a considerable one, as the U.S. spends over $218 billion growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten—the environmental costs of not doing so are even more profound.

If it were a country, food loss and waste would be the third-largest emitter of annual greenhouse gas emissions after China and the U.S. Fundamental to our success in addressing this crisis will be the ability to measure performance and report progress with sophisticated platforms—both those that are already at our fingertips and those that are still in the works.

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