Take hotels. The US hospitality industry produces an estimated 2-4 million tons of food waste each year. This is driven in part by many hotels’ policies to overproduce food for banquets and buffets to create a sense of abundance.
To rethink such policies, WWF partnered with the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), which counts brands such as Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott among its members. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, WWF and AHLA set up demonstration projects in member hotels to separate and measure food waste and assess the behaviors, perceptions, and costs associated with it.
For the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, DC, the pilot program was a no-brainer, says Phelton Calhoun, the hotel’s executive steward. It was low-tech and relatively inexpensive, requiring only some new garbage cans—one set to dispose of and weigh “pre-production” food, such as fruit and vegetable peels, and another for food to be composted. The goal was to create a system first to prevent food waste, second to donate what could be used elsewhere, and, as a last resort, to divert the rest from landfills. “It wasn’t more work, just different,” says Calhoun, who rolled out the project on Earth Day 2017 to help workers make the connection between the process and its impacts.
The results were immediate and impressive. In the gallons and gallons of trash, staff were able to visualize the impacts of serving that extra tray of sliced beef or strawberries at a buffet. As important, they could see which foods were left over. So instead of producing an extra 5% of everything, they might make, say, extra shrimp, but not chicken. Over the course of the project, Calhoun saw a 50% reduction in food waste per guest. He also saved money by reducing weekly garbage pickups by as much as 40%.
Results were consistent throughout the program. Participating hotels saw, on average, reductions in food waste of at least 10%. Some properties reported saving 3% or better in food costs.
Based on the findings, WWF and AHLA released a toolkit for hotels, challenging the industry to create systems—and a culture—to address food waste. It outlines opportunities to engage and empower everyone from the dishwasher to the head chef. In April, WWF held the first of several meetings, in Singapore, to bring together hoteliers, associations, government officials, and NGOs to discuss opportunities to fight food waste in the hospitality sector globally.
Grocery retailers represent another huge opportunity to reduce waste. Retailers that once viewed overripe pears or meat near its sell-by date as sunk costs of doing business now increasingly see food waste, which totals $18.2 billion annually across the industry, as something that can be controlled. Donating what would otherwise be wasted is also a smart way to fight hunger. According to nonprofit ReFED, retailers can provide nearly 1.2 billion meals to those in need by increasing their donations to food pantries.
To that end, in September 2017, Kroger—the nation’s second-largest grocery retailer, with 2,800 stores—introduced its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste plan to end hunger and eliminate waste in its communities, working with national partners WWF and Feeding America. Again, measuring was the first step. Over the first six months, Kroger worked with WWF to understand how food waste was being managed in its stores.