On average, nearly 70 million tons of food is wasted each year in the United States. With the novel coronavirus COVID-19 effectively turning the world upside down, this number promises to increase. Among those expected to experience an increase in food waste generated on-site is the hospitality industry. As short-term lodging sites and hotels adjust their practices and occupancy levels, food is discarded at a higher rate due to a lack of sales or guests.
Hotels have typically been at the forefront of the food waste challenge in the hospitality industry. Overnight guests are known for adding to the amount of waste generated on-site. Ranging from uneaten room service meals to complimentary hygiene products, the transient nature of hotel patronage lends itself to a greater volume of disposable goods. Similarly, on-site buffets, continental breakfasts, and other inclusive offerings can drive up the amount of waste generated on-site.
Perhaps one of the most significant contributing factors to food waste in the hotel industry is the number of perishable items found in on-site kitchens. Often, owners and kitchen managers do not have an accurate inventory of supplies in their refrigerators and freezers, which can lead to many items going to waste before ever ending up in front of a customer or on a serving line.
Let us look at some options for the hotel industry as they try to curb the amount of food waste generated at their sites. While most businesses within the hospitality industry have taken to donating food to their staff or local charity organizations, sometimes this is not a possibility. With waste management technology advancements, those within the hospitality industry have a new range of possible solutions to their waste problems.
Composting has long been a viable option for diverting food waste from the landfill. Many major cities have begun supplying residents and businesses with receptacles in which they can deposit their compostable items. However, composting in hotels can prove challenging, given the amount and variety of waste items that are generated. Staff members would need to sort through waste materials and separate compostable items from the non-compostable which adds to labor costs with no apparent return on investment.
A close cousin to composting is the dehydration of food waste. Using thermal or mechanical means, dehydrators can reduce the weight and amount of waste before it is hauled away to landfills. Any additional liquid is disposed of safely in the sewer system. Much like composting, dehydration allows for decreased costs on waste hauling due to reduced weight and quantities.
A more technologically advanced alternative to composting and dehydrators is the use of food digesters. Sometimes referred to as food liquefiers, food digesters break down food waste using a biological additive to aid in decomposition. Adding enzymes or microbial organisms to water, which is, in turn, added to food waste, allows discarded food to be converted into wastewater discharged into the sewer system. Implementing this system, hotels can curb waste hauling costs and manage on-site waste more efficiently.
However, the use of food digesters does come with some considerations. For example, hoteliers should contact their local water treatment plant to ensure that the plant’s staff can treat the wastewater they produce. Typically, the byproduct created by food digesters has a higher than average biochemical oxygen demand and can, therefore, be corrosive. Hotel owners should evaluate their plumbing and perform routine maintenance to ensure the longevity of the system if implementing this type of solution. Sewage costs might also increase and should be considered in reviewing the overall cost savings due to the extra measures needed to treat wastewater created by food digesters.
There is no one size fits all approach to food waste reduction in the hospitality industry. Much like everything else in society, needs and practices may vary depending on the unique factors each property may face. Ultimately, any of the alternatives to the landfill can significantly improve the sustainability of hotels having a positive impact on profits, guest experience and the planet.
Matthew S. Hollis is the co-founder and President of Elytus, a third-party administrator that helps clients streamline waste and recycling operations while becoming more sustainable in the process. As a part of its #WasteNothing motto, Elytus believes in saving time, money, and the environment.