Iain Clunie discusses the best way to serve up collaboration in the kitchen in order to tackle the issue of food waste

Food waste is a global problem with serious implications that requires serious solutions from governments, food businesses and environmental organisations. In the kitchen, combatting food waste also requires a team effort.

Since leaving my career as a Chef behind, I’ve swapped serving up three course meals for heading up the Food and Drink team here at Zero Waste Scotland. Yet the significance of collaboration has only grown stronger.

Scotland’s relationship with food and drink is vital for the economy as the industry creates wealth and jobs. But like most relationships, it isn’t perfect. Tackling the scale of wasted food in our society becomes an economic, environmental and moral imperative when there’s so much on the line.

As the sector grows, so too does the issue of sustainability. Food waste can be costly for businesses, but with research suggesting that up to 75 per cent of this could be avoided, handling food more efficiently can unlock big savings.

Unnecessary loss is bad news for the planet as well as profit margins since food waste is also a significant source of carbon emissions. The consequences of food waste can also be felt at every stage of the supply chain. Estimates suggest that over a staggering £200 million could be saved through food waste prevention in the hospitality and food services sector alone.

We are committed to meeting the Scottish Government’s target of reducing food waste by a third by 2025, 13putting Scotland on track to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals. We are working with Scotland’s food and drink sector to help make it happen.

Take the Auchrannie Resort in Arran. They were keen to identify practical opportunities for reduction of food waste but weren’t sure how, so that’s when we got involved. There is huge scope for businesses like them to save on food waste as they have multiple restaurants on site. At the Auchrannie, all three of their restaurants serve a variety of food, made up of a long list of ingredients with varying serving sizes.

Their kitchen processes, food waste levels and the current methods of waste disposal were assessed by our waste prevention advisors. We involved staff working at the resort as much as possible to help build our understanding of where food waste was being produced.

A significant contributor was the 27 tonnes per year of used cooking oil generated in the kitchens, with 160 litres collected for disposal every two days. In the kitchen, every drop of used cooking oil counts towards food waste levels, yet it’s not always possible to cut it out completely. The audit led to a number of recommendations for reducing or preventing their food waste. The key recommendation was to purchase new oil fryers which continuously filter the oil.

When deep frying, food particles can break free, contaminating the oil and meaning the oil has to be replaced on a regular basis. However, a fryer with integrated filtration circulates the oil through filters during use. These filters remove the food particles from the oil, preventing the build-up of unwanted carbon particles without altering the flavour. This extends the life of the cooking oil and can reduce oil usage by up to 50 per cent. As a result of these changes, the hotel reduced their oil consumption by 13.6 tonnes.

The savings on purchase costs were equally impressive. The Auchrannie Resort saved £14,600 in annual oil purchase costs, which shows that staggering amount food businesses can save just by making some simple changes.

Upgrades can be a tricky subject for businesses as it can be expensive to cash out at first. The resort was able to receive capital cost through Zero Waste Scotland’s Resource Efficient Scotland programme via the Waste Prevention Implementation Fund.

Auchrannie Resort received £14,500 in funding for five new fryer units with integrated filtration. This allowed the resort to take advantage of the potential food waste savings at no upfront cost or risk to the business. The hotel will be able to fully pay off the loan amount in just one year thanks to the new fryers, which shows there’s no trade-off between doing the right thing for the planet and your business.

None of this would have happened if Auchrannie Resort did not recognise their own environmental impact and take steps to reduce it. The best way to tackle food waste is to prevent it. That’s why the focus for the future is on making changes throughout our food system so we all waste less food.

Iain Clunie is Programme Manager for Food and Drink, Zero Waste Scotland. Zero Waste Scotland exists to create a society where resources are valued and nothing is wasted. Its goal is to help Scotland realise the economic, environmental and social benefits of making best use of the world’s limited natural resources.