Before the pandemic, the UK was entering into a pretty dangerous situation in terms of food waste. It had been reported that £1.8 billion worth of takeaway food was discarded each year, and that takeaway establishments themselves were directly responsible for £1.4 billion of that. The good news, however, was that these statistics sparked a number of initiatives to reduce food waste, and progress was being made.

Dominos, for example, increased fresh food deliveries to stores to a minimum of three times per week, ensuring that each area was able to order as needed to meet local demand, and reducing unused ingredients. Subway introduced a similar scheme, with the ultimate aim of reducing food waste to an average of less than 1% per store.

Enter COVID-19.

Sadly, it appears as though the global health crisis has undone much of the hard work that takeaways have been making over the past few years. The total amount of food waste generated by takeaways is believed to have risen by £16.7m since lockdown regulations were first introduced, with food now accounting for 10% of all total waste.

The COVID-19 Effect on Takeaway Food Waste

The primary reason for the increase in takeaway food waste during the pandemic is undoubtedly the rapid fluctuations in demand. Coupled with more unpredictable ordering patterns, takeaways are finding it very challenging to prepare efficiently.

Continuous cycles of restriction easing and tightening – often with little advance notice – have meant that demand is rising and falling in line with the ever-shifting level of severity of the crisis. Additionally, the trend for Friday and Saturday night ordering is disappearing. Closures of pubs and bars have essentially eradicated the ‘post night out’ customer segment, while the work from home trend is seeing food orders being placed more evenly throughout the week, rather than targeted over the weekends.

For those takeaways such as Dominos and Subway which had previously been relying on regular deliveries throughout the week – and sometimes throughout the day – process changes across the supply chain have also proven to be a major problem. With an increase in staff absences – either due to illness or the mandatory requirement to self isolate following close contact – many supply chains have been unable to deliver with the same level of frequency that they once were, which is contributing to waste levels.

Of course, while there are a number of ways to reduce food waste in takeaways – serving chips and fries in the ‘skin-on’ style, for example, or designing a ‘nose-to-tail’ type menu that makes use of often discarded cuts, at this particular time, supply chain issues and unpredictable demand are resulting in very high levels of overproduction.

Just Eat’s 2019 ‘Food Waste: What’s the Issue?’ report confirms that overproduction was already the ‘most common cause of food waste’ even prior to the pandemic, and the current landscape is doing little to address this problem or create a suitable solution.

Why Food Waste Matters

It is clear that the problem of increased food waste matters from an environmental perspective. Making food, transporting food, and cooking food all uses energy which gives off harmful greenhouses gases that are accelerating climate change. According to the UK Government, eradicating food waste would reduce CO2 emissions by around 17m tonnes; roughly the equivalent of removing 20% of vehicles from the UK’s roads.

However, takeaway owners may be interested to learn that the problem isn’t just environmental; it could also have a direct impact on business operations. Reports by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) claims the COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on preference, with customer concern for the environment growing by more than 15% since the start of the outbreak. Customers are selecting takeaways by considering more than just the food choices; they are actively looking to support those who show a commitment to operating responsibly, and reducing their food waste.

Taking measures to attract and delight customers is more important than ever. It’s no secret that takeaway restaurants were amongst some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with statistics suggesting that by May 2020, more than one third of Brits had stopped ordering takeaways due to the outbreak, preferring to cook at home instead.

How Takeaways Can Take Action on Food Waste

Unfortunately, according to a joint report by the SRA and Just Eat, nearly half of all takeaway venues – around 45% – admit to simply throwing their food waste away.

However, there are alternatives.

Despite the challenges of operating during this period of uncertainty, there are ways that takeaway businesses can help to keep the fight on food waste moving forward.

While it may not be possible right now to reduce food waste, it is possible to ensure that any food waste that’s produced is being used in a positive way, and contributing towards important causes. For example, rather than throwing food waste away, takeaway owners could create a new waste management plan, partnering with a reliable waste collection service that recycles all waste, leaving nothing to landfill.

What many don’t realise is that food waste can be used to generate power, heat, and fuel for transport when it’s broken down with the help of microorganisms that produce methane. While methane is a harmful greenhouse gas, the breakdown process takes place under controlled, secured conditions, allowing the gas to be utilised for energy generation. This can be an excellent way to ensure your takeaway is continuing to do its part and operate responsibly, even during these difficult and very challenging times.

Not only can recycling schemes help ensure your food waste is having a positive impact, it could also help to save you money, too. By separating food waste from your general waste, you could reduce the weight of your waste, and your collection fees.

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