Currently, an estimated one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. Food waste is a global issue, but it is also a significant cost for Irish businesses.
Having worked as a chef in Ireland and abroad and then gone on to co-ordinate Cork Food Policy Council, I started working in food waste prevention in 2017, when I joined the team at the Clean Technology Centre, based at MTU Cork.
Food waste occurs across the food supply system, and my work has focused both on what’s going on at the household level as well as within food service businesses. Ask any chef and they’ll be able to tell you something about the food waste problems in the industry. However, when I first came to research food waste, no one had any numbers on the issue at a sector level - how much was being wasted, and where was it coming from?
To get this type of information, my colleagues and I carried out research in 2018 and 2019. We spent one full day of service in about 30 hotels and restaurants across the country, meticulously measuring and categorising every bit of wasted food. Yes, exactly what you’re thinking – rooting through bins. We scraped food waste into different plastics boxes so that everyone could see what exactly was going into the bin. This was not the most glamorous of work, but I found it very revealing. The results from the research can now be used to inform food businesses across Ireland.
Five facts about food waste in Ireland
- In Ireland, we generate approximately 1 million tonnes of food waste every year.
- It is estimated that every year the Irish commercial sector wastes 200,000 tonnes of food.
- Food waste from the typical Irish food service business comes from plate waste (38%), preparation waste (35%) and unserved food waste (27%).
- A proportion of ‘unavoidable’ food waste comes from peelings and off-cuts. On average, this waste accounts for just 25% of food waste thrown away.
- The food waste disposed of in a typical commercial brown bin is valued at €250.
At the end of almost every service, we were met with the same shock from staff. The thing with food waste in a busy kitchen - it’s very much out of sight, out of mind. Few people have the time, or the prerogative to go rooting around the food waste bin at the end of a long shift.
With the data gathered, my colleagues and I are working to offer support to businesses who want to take action to reduce this waste. Most of this work is now through a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine funded project called Savour Food. With COVID restrictions, closures and uncertainty within the sector, the past 18 months have required a certain sensitivity. However, more and more food businesses are keen to reconsider their business models, take action on waste and take interest in issues regarding environmental sustainability.
We have created an online resource that we hope will be useful to the industry, the Savour Food e-tool. Food waste is a complicated issue and there is no “one size fits all” set of solutions for businesses. For this reason, we have designed the e-tool to be something you can look through and then select solutions that might work in your kitchen. We also offer consultancy remotely and hopefully site visits in-person once things are back up and running. With many businesses looking at a very tough time ahead, any operational changes that can save food and money just makes good business sense.
For more information about Savour Food and the supports we can offer, or if you would be interested in having your advice featured on the site, get in touch though savourfood.ie or by email at email@example.com.
Check out the Less Food Waste More Profit publication from the Clean Technology Centre, MTU Cork: