Waste reduction movement gains traction in UAE hospitality industry

Food waste in the UAE is a growing concern: more than 3.5 million tonnes of food is thrown away in the UAE each year at a cost of up to AED 15 billion ($4.1 billion).

Estimates from the Abu Dhabi Centre for Waste Management, Tadweer, suggest food waste accounts for more than 35 percent and up to 50 percent of all waste generated in the capital alone.

However, conversations that Arabian Business has been having with F&B outlets in the country suggest the tide may just be beginning to turn with a number of waste reduction initiatives taken by players in the hospitality industry beginning to bear results.

Jumeirah Restaurant Group, for instance, has a resource policy that dictates using fresh food for all purposes including staff meals, allowing a for a waste bill much lower than would be expected.

“We cook to order in all our venues, so we don’t have the wastage issues that buffets can create,” said executive chef Ben Tobitt.

“If I had to put a figure on food wastage per month, I’d say it equates to a value of around a thousand dirhams a month across the portfolio,” he said.

“But we’re also trying to combat this, and I’m in talks with a number of companies regarding portable composters and plan to talk to a few local suppliers regarding using this compost in our own vegetable field.”

Plastic amnesty

Because food waste, while a major contributor, is only part of the waste generation equation, JRG also initiated a ‘plastic amnesty’ programme, banned the use of guest facing single use non-essential plastics across all 12 of its F&B operations across Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

In contrast, The Armani Hotel Dubai faced a more traditional problem in the form of hundreds of tonnes of waste that needed to be disposed of each year.

A proposition that involved occupying among the world’s one of a kind hospitality experiences came at the cost of financial resources in procuring excess food, a large carbon footprint, as well as expenses in the logistics of transporting the waste to landfills.

Significant reduction

In 2015, the hotel embarked on an expansive sustainability initiative. Partnering with solutions provider Winnow, it fitted smart scales in its kitchen to help dispense only the exact amount of raw food each dish to prepared requires; chefs and staff at cooking stations were trained in how to segregate food and general waste; the hotel also invested capital in food waste recycling machines that can dry food waste and reduce waste weight by up to 80%.

The food waste is then composted and used in landscaping areas around the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

In the six months from January to June 2018, total waste food coming from buffet, staff canteen, ball room events amounted to 77,930 kg, a significant reduction from the hotel’s operations three years ago when the programme was introduced.

Total compost produced and taken away by waste removal partners for agriculture and gardening purposed over the same period amount to 2,717 kg.

Yearly inspections

In Ras Al Khaimah, 10 out of 26 hotels have now been designated to have excellent waste management practices with the remaining encouraged to improve waste related operational efficiencies further.

The classicifations are part of a 2016 ‘Green Hotel’ scheme that looks to improve recycling rates at hotels across the Emirate.

The scheme is part of the emirate’s drive to reach the 2021 UAE National Target of diverting 75% of all recyclable waste from landfills.

Since it was introduced in March 2016 by Ras Al Khaimah’s Waste Management Agency (WMA), the Public Service Department in Ras Al Khaimah, represented by RAKWMA, along with with RAK’s Tourist Development Agency, carries out yearly inspections of the waste management practices of each hotel involved in the RAK Green Hotel scheme.

Over 18 months, it has recorded a 120% increase in the amount of recyclable waste diverted from landfills each month, and resulted in 130 tonnes of waste materials being sorted and separated at source for recycling each month – up from an initial 60 tonnes per month.

Highlighting the ramifications of waste and why sustainability initiatives are important, encourage the hospitality industry to reform practices, said CEO of Dubai-based hospitality consultancy Restaurant Secrets.

“Awareness campaigns on the ethical consumption of food and in the most extreme circumstances when outlets cannot avoid waste of cooked items, charitable drives,” are effective ways to motivate sustainability initiatives.

However, the biggest motivator for organisations to stop food waste are “clear financial statements that prove how their profits dwindle when food is wasted. Even restaurants with high turnover may be losing a big chunk of those profit margins by large percentage of waste of food & non-food inventory,” he said.

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