How Your Business Can Be Better at Managing Food Waste

published Feb 23, 2022
3 min read

Waste, in general, has become a huge issue. While plastic waste is probably still the main concern, food waste is coming in a close second. In fact, the two forms of waste are closely linked due to the use of plastic in food packaging. With that in mind, SOS Wholesale, UK leaders on wholesale items, share their tips on how businesses can be better at managing food waste.

The basics of food waste

At present, only Scotland has a legal definition of food waste.

“Food waste is any food, and inedible parts of food, removed from the food supply chain to be recovered or disposed (including composted, crops ploughed in/not harvested, anaerobic digestion, bio-energy production, co-generation, incineration, disposal to sewer, landfill or discarded to sea).”

This definition was originally developed by FUSIONS and hence will probably form the basis for any EU guidance/regulations on the issue. The Scottish government has indicated that it will continue to follow EU guidance and regulations. It seems likely that the UK government will also do so when it implements its own food waste regulations. These are expected in 2023.

Food waste is a part of catering waste. The term catering waste does, however, cover other categories of waste, such as packaging and disposable eating utensils.

The basic process of managing food waste effectively is essentially the same as the general guidance for sustainability. You should typically be aiming to reduce it, reuse it and/or recycle it, usually in that order of preference.

Reducing food waste

The key to reducing food waste is only to buy what you need. The key to making this happen is planning. Part of this planning may involve assessing your use of suppliers. For example, it is usually preferable to buy fresh products from suppliers that can provide the quantities you specify. If they only sell pre-weighed products, it is easy to end up buying more than you need.

This is less of an issue with canned and frozen goods. With that said, canned goods do tend to need to be used up within a certain period after they have been opened. You may, therefore, wish to take this into consideration when choosing can sizes.

You might also look for suppliers who sell so-called “wonky food.” This is food that is usually rejected by large-scale buyers, especially supermarkets purely due to its appearance. Consumers are now increasingly willing to buy this food. What is more, if you are using it to make other products, they won’t see it anyway.

Growing your own food

Another way to reduce food waste is to grow your own produce and just pick what you need. This can be as simple as having a few pots of fresh herbs. It is, however, becoming increasingly possible to do meaningful “vertical farming.”

Modular growing pods/chambers are now available in a variety of sizes and hence a variety of price points. These growing pods/chambers essentially act as self-contained growing environments (rather like terrariums). Sensors detect what the plants need, and the pods/chambers deliver it automatically. No green fingers are required.

Vertical farming is likely to deliver the most value when it is used to grow more expensive produce and/or produce with a shorter shelf life. For example, it could be a fantastic way to grow herbs, berries and even tomatoes. It would, however, probably not be a cost-effective approach to growing root vegetables.

Growing your own food can bring several other benefits. According to a trial by retailer M&S, store-grown plants used 95% less water and 75% less fertiliser than plants grown in the traditional way. Growing food on-site also eliminates “food miles,” reduces packaging and can be very appealing to customers.

Reusing food and food waste

Whenever you buy food, try to use all of it. This can be as straightforward as making basic changes. For example, only peel fruit and vegetables if you have to. Aside from minimising food waste, the skin of fruit and vegetables often contains valuable fibre and nutrients.

Even if you cannot use all of a food item in food, you may still be able to find other uses for it. For example, eggshells have multiple uses from cleaning drains to feeding chickens.

Another option would be to preserve unused food for later use. Many foods can be frozen quickly and easily. Even foods that do not freeze can often be preserved in other ways such as drying, canning, pickling, and turning into jam/marmalade/chutney. These could then be sold, used as competition prizes/promotional items, or even just given as gifts to staff or customers.

Recycling food

If you really cannot use up food before it is due to expire, then ideally you should pass it on to someone else who can. The law around this is actually quite simple.

Display-until, sell-by and best-before dates are all purely for guidance. Use-by dates are safety indicators. It is illegal to sell food after its use-by date. It is, however, perfectly legal to give it away.

You will probably have noticed that retailers consistently discount food up to its use-by date. This can be an effective way of reducing your financial loss on it. Once it has gone past its use-by date, however, it can make both ethical and economic sense just to give it away. This will reduce food waste and its associated costs.

Recycling food waste

Remember that food does not necessarily have to be edible to have value. For example, gardeners may be happy to take some foods for compost. Depending on where you are located and how much waste you have, you may be able to get rid of all your food waste this way. In fact, if you run your own composting operation, you may be able to sell the compost.

If composting is not an option for you, then you may wish to look at on-site waste digestion. This is broadly similar to composting in that it uses aerobic digestion and naturally occurring microorganisms to break down food waste.

The main difference is that it converts the waste into liquid wastewater. This can legally be put down the drain. It will then be sent to regular water treatment plants and, ultimately, fed back into the water supply.