The Unknown and Unseen Scandal of Hotel Food Waste

Everyone loves a luxury vacation or a fancy hotel buffet, but how are hospitality companies contributing to the global food waste problem? You are about to find out.


What if every time you sat down for a meal, you threw one-quarter of it in the trash?  That’s the hidden story of waste in the hospitality industry, where an eagerness to please customers has turned into an unseen food scandal.

About 25 per cent of all food that passes through hotel kitchens is thrown out as food waste, and for every diner the hotel serves, about 350 grams is binned, according industry experts Eco-Business spoke to.  Multiply 350g by the hundreds of thousands of hotels and hundreds of rooms, and the figure adds up. For instance, French hotel giant AccorHotels reports that food-related waste makes up half of all trash generated on its properties, though the amount of waste varies according to the type of hotel.

Luxury hotels under its Sofitel and Pullman brands, for instance, churn out 47 tonnes of food waste annually, while mid-range names such as Mercure and Novotel throw away 35 tonnes a year. Economy hotels such as Ibis only produce half that figure, at 17 tonnes a year.

But the waste footprint of a hotel could be much higher depending on its size and the number of food and beverage (F&B) outlets on site, says Benjamin Lephilibert, managing director of hotel food waste consultancy Lightblue Consulting.

“On average we’ve seen hotels waste 35 per cent of all food purchased, with some exceptions like a remote luxury resort in the Maldives, where the figure reaches a stunning 42 per cent,” he says.

The issue of food waste is especially pertinent in the Asia Pacific region, which is home to major food-exporting countries such as the Philippines and China, and is also where most of the world’s 800 million hungry people live. 

It is also the new frontier for the hotel industry as economies such as Myanmar open to tourism. The number of rooms in certain Asian cities could grow as much as 30 per cent in the next few years, according to real estate firm JLL.

But increasing consumer awareness around sustainable travel means customers are showing a preference for hotels that can prove their environmental credentials—65 per cent of travellers, to be more precise, reports a study by travel booking portal

Eat till you drop

The biggest amount of food wastage occurs due to overproduction in the kitchens, notes Maxime Pourrat, the Singapore-based managing director of food waste prevention firm Winnow Solutions’ Asian operations.

Pointing out that buffets are more popular in Asia than in Europe, he says: “In Singapore for example, we love buffets, but we want buffets that look like there’s a lot of food there, and most of this will go to the bin.”

“Some food will be reused [through donations or as raw materials for other dishes], but that’s still overproduction.”

The dinner buffet at Edge, the all-day dining restaurant at Pan Pacific Singapore, is refreshed every two hours to cater to the continuous stream of customers.  Singapore’s National Environment Agency regulations stipulate that food cannot be kept on hold for more than four hours at a certain temperature, says Michele Greggio, executive chef of Pan Pacific Singapore. “But to be safer and ensure we are providing the freshest food possible, we have a two-hour standard, which is in the middle of service.”  The most popular of the hotel’s eight eateries, the Edge restaurant—together with the hotel’s staff canteen—generates 400kg of food waste every month.

Greggio says that chefs at the hotel prepare the amount of food to be served during each meal based on the expected number of guests, which is inferred from reservations and registrations. Kitchen staff also record the amount of leftovers to better anticipate future demand.

However, buffets are good for feeding a large group of people at the same time, though the downside is the amount of food that ends up in the trash, notes Lucas Glanville, director of culinary operations at the Grand Hyatt Singapore.

His guiding principle to running a buffet is to do as one would at home: cooking right when the food is needed. The equivalent in a hotel restaurant setting is cooking dishes at live stations upon request, or a la minute.

“If you go to any of our restaurants, you’ll see small portions of food cooked to order,” he tells Eco-Business.

The five-star hotel has cut its food waste output from 1000kg two years ago to 800kg today by monitoring its waste generation, communicating with staff, and ensuring proper food storage.

By slashing its food waste, the hotel reports that it has achieved S$100,000 in savings per year.

Lightblue Consulting’s Lephilibert says that reducing food waste can result in a reduction of between 3 and 5 per cent in annual food purchasing costs. This in turn translates into savings of US$50,000 (S$67,603) for small three-star hotels serving 15,000-20,000 covers per month, to over US$300,000 (S$405,623) in international brand five-star properties.

Crunching numbers

One major issue in tackling hotel food waste is to get hotel employees to see the value of the food they are tossing out, says Winnow’s Pourrat, adding that people are quite good about reducing their waste once they have the data.

The company installs weighing scales and software in restaurant kitchenshotel staff can then use these to weigh and record the amount and type of food they are throwing away, and the software displays the corresponding carbon emissions and cost price of the food. The data is collected and eventually sent to the hotel’s managers or chefs.

“What gets measured, gets managed. That’s why there’s a reduction in food waste,” he adds.

After trialling Winnow’s solution, AccorHotels this year announced a goal to reduce food waste by 30 per cent across its international portfolio of 4,200 properties by 2020, says Lynn Lee, sustainable development and communications director, Asia Pacific, AccorHotels.

“The results from our pilot programme with Winnow reflected that the food waste reduction had been more than 30 per cent, therefore the group felt that an average reduction of 30 per cent is achievable,” Lee says.

AccorHotels this year began offering its hotels a choice between adopting Winnow’s software-based monitoring system and an in-house programme for properties that are more advanced in the food waste reduction journey, launched in July.

The hotel group has also committed to installing 1,000 urban vegetable gardens by 2020, like the one at the Pullman and Novotel hotels in New Delhi Aerocity.

Another way to repurpose food waste are biodigesters; these are machines that convert food scraps and leftovers into fertilisers or organic wastewater that can be discharged harmlessly into the sewage system.

Hyatt already has a digester and uses its byproducts in its rooftop vegetable garden, while Pan Pacific Singapore plans to install one in the first quarter of 2018.

Biodigesters are the fourth best option according to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, but have the benefit of reducing the overall carbon footprint associated with transport and disposal”, says Lephilibert. A better option is donate food that is still edible to local charities, he adds.

According to hospitality sustainability consultancy Greenview’s Green Lodging Trends Report, 47.4 per cent of hotels in Asia Pacific donate excess food, higher than other regions. The report also found that 41 per cent of hotels in Asia Pacific say they compost food waste within their premises or externally, while 12 per cent have a digester.

Grand Hyatt’s Glanville says, when asked what his advice was for hotels still on the fence about food waste: “Make a decision—are you part of the problem or the solution?”

“As an industry, it’s not just about producing delicious food and having amazing service. Just as we’re accountable for producing an enjoyable experience for guests, we’re also accountable for what happens afterwards.”

Source: Eco-Business & WIH Resource Group

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California Garbage Trucks Fueled by Garbage – WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Methane gas produced in California landfills fuels garbage and recycling trucks, reducing the state’s carbon emissions.

Hundreds of trash trucks across California are rumbling down city streets using clean fuel made from a dirty source: garbage.

The fuel is derived from rotting refuse that San Francisco and Oakland residents and businesses have been discarding in the Altamont landfill since 1980. Since November, the methane gas created from decaying detritus at the 240-acre landfill has been sucked into tubes and sent into an innovative facility that purifies and transforms it into liquefied natural gas.

Almost 500 Waste Management Inc. garbage and recycling trucks run on this new source of environmentally friendly fuel instead of dirty diesel.

In a state that has passed the most stringent greenhouse gas reduction goals in the United States, the climate change benefits of this plant are twofold — methane from the trash heap is captured before entering the environment and use of the fuel produces less carbon dioxide than conventional gasoline.

“We’ve built the largest landfill-to-LNG plant in the world; this plant produces 13,000 gallons a day of LNG,” says Jessica Jones, a landfill manager for Houston-based Waste Management. “It will take 30,000 tons a year of CO2 from the environment.”

Altamont is one of two California landfills making LNG; the other is a smaller facility about 40 miles south of Los Angeles. Other natural gas facilities are being planned by Waste Management at some of the 270 active landfills nationwide, and the number could grow quickly as communities seek to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

In 2009, the US. Environmental Protection Agency counted 517 active landfill energy projects in the nation’s approximately 1,800 operational municipal landfills. That was up almost 50 percent from 2000, and 28 percent from 2004.

Landfills have plenty of the ingredients to produce methane. Bacteria break down the food scraps, paper, lawn trimmings and other organic waste dumped there. Over time, the material ferments, releasing methane and other gases. About 50 percent of the gas emitted from landfills is methane. It is 21 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere, the EPA says.

“Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide,” Tom Frankiewicz, program manager for EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program in Washington, says in an e-mail. “Methane is also the main component of natural gas, so by capturing and using methane as an energy source you get an even bigger bang for the buck.”

At the Altamont landfill, seagulls hover over the sprawling complex, set among the rolling green hills and wind farms of the Altamont pass about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of San Francisco. Dotted throughout the facility are more than 100 wells with black tubes that vacuum up methane from the heap.

The LNG is then pumped into the garbage and recycling trucks at a company fueling station in Oakland, while vehicles elsewhere in California get their gas at specially equipped stations.

The idea of turning garbage into clean energy is not a new one — the Altamont site has had a methane-fueled electric power plant since 1989 that can power 8,000 homes a day. Hundreds of other landfills in the U.S. also use methane captured from rotting garbage for electricity projects.

In 2005, the last year data was available, landfill methane electricity projects made up 10.8 percent of the country’s renewable energy output, not including hydroelectric power, EPA says.

Given its impact on greenhouse gases, four state environmental agencies contributed grants to help build the $15.5 million Altamont plant. Mike Beckman of Linde Group North America, the company that built and runs the natural gas plant, says the Altamont plant should continue producing fuel for 20 years or more.

That makes the nascent Altamont plant potentially profitable, as the gas is sold to Waste Management and other customers.

But to many who may want to use the technology, the cost of purifying the methane into usable liquefied natural gas can be a daunting barrier. The $15.5 million it took to build Altamont’s LNG facility is far more than it costs to build a small electrical plant.

“There is growing interest, but because removing impurities from the methane is currently quite expensive, right now it’s only profitable at larger landfills where you have enough landfill gas,” Mr. Frankiewicz says. “With today’s economics, these projects only happen at the biggest sites in the U.S.; the thought is that as the technology becomes cheaper, that will change.”

Associated Press writer Terence Chea contributed to this report.

Source: Associated Press & WIH Resource Group

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Volvo Trucks Declares Itself First Manufacturer of Efficient Dual-Fuel Euro V Engine – WIH Resource Group

“Methane gas is by far the most accessible fuel as an alternative to diesel.” – Lars Mårtensson, Environmental Director Volvo Trucks
80% methane replacement expected after engine refinement and testing

Volvo Trucks is staking a claim in the heavy-duty natural gas vehicle arena, announcing it will be the first manufacturer with an ‘efficient’  natural gas diesel dual-fuel engine meeting Euro V exhaust emission standards (introduced in 2009). Field testing will start in Sweden and the UK in 2010. “This unique technology allows us to combine the advantages of gas with the diesel engine’s high efficiency rating, which is about 30-40 percent superior to that of the spark plug engine,” comments Lars Mårtensson, Environmental Director Volvo Trucks. “As a result, this truck consumes considerably less energy than traditional gas trucks do.”

Following trials of different biofuels which commenced August 2007, Volvo Trucks is now focusing on two renewable fuels: DME and methane gas + diesel. “Methane gas is by far the most accessible fuel as an alternative to diesel. There are larger reserves of natural gas than oil. But above all, production of climate-neutral biogas is gaining momentum in many countries, which solves the most urgent problem – reducing CO2 emissions,” says Lars Mårtensson.

Volvo Trucks says its technology has significantly increased operational range by combining higher density liquified methane gas with diesel and using this fuel in a diesel engine. The company further states that the diesel engine’s driveability is better compared to a spark ignited engine.How Volvo Trucks’ gas truck works

The solution is based on Volvo’s Euro 5 diesel engines. When the engines are converted for gas operation, special tanks are added for either liquid volume-efficient methane gas (Liquefied natural gas – LNG/Liquefied biogas – LBG) or pressurised methane gas (compressed natural gas – CNG/compressed biogas – CBG). In addition, a separate fuel system is added with gas injectors in the inlet manifold.A small amount of diesel is injected and ignited by the compression, which in turn ignites the methane gas/air mixture. This saves the need for a spark plug and allows Volvo to make full use of the efficient diesel technology. As a result, the power and drive-ability are identical to that of a conventional diesel truck.“Processors continuously calculate fuel ratio according to the driver’s current driving pattern. The optimum – i.e. the highest – proportion of gas is achieved during smooth, stable driving,” explains Lars Mårtensson. If the gas runs out, the truck can continue operating on only diesel.

Lars Mårtensson, Environmental Director at Volvo Trucks
Lars Mårtensson, Environmental Director at Volvo Trucks

Field testing to optimize technologyThe amount of diesel required during operation varies, but Volvo Trucks aims to minimise the proportion of diesel.“We expect to be able to run on up to 80 percent methane gas once the technology has been refined and tested,” says Mats Franzén, Manager Engine Strategy and Planning, Volvo Trucks. “Our field tests in 2010 will start with a mixture containing up to 70 percent methane gas. The remainder will consist of bio-mix diesel, i.e. fossil diesel mixed with diesel produced from renewable raw materials.”Calculated over the whole fuel chain, from production to use on roads, the new technology could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 percent in the long term compared to traditional diesel operation, if biogas and 100 percent biodiesel are used.Market Appeal

There are two main factors driving the increased market demand for gas-powered trucks. One is cost savings. Methane gas is currently a relatively cheap fuel in many markets.

The other driving factor stems from the strict environmental regulations in many towns and cities, playing a crucial role in purchasing decisions, particularly in municipal companies. To optimise and refine the technology, Volvo Trucks is also collaborating with technology companies Clean Air Power, Hardstaff Group and Westport Innovations.Both natural gas and biogas consist of methane. The difference is that natural gas is a fossil fuel, whereas biogas is produced from biodegradable material such as waste.Source: Volvo North America, Volvo Trucks, NGV Global News and WIH Resource Group

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Biogas from Sewage and Landfills – Glamorous? No, but a Renewable Fuel? Yes.

In the last of the “Mad Max” movie, the one that prominently featured Tina Turner, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the post-apocalyptic world depended on “pigsh_t” for energy.

That idea, albeit the invention of a Hollywood screenwriter, may not, however, be as outlandish as it might originally appear. In India, for example, there are myriad small methane producers throughout the country that produce just enough methane for home uses, using small methane generators powered mostly by cow dung.

In September of 2008, San Antonio, Texas set into motion an ambitious plan that would make it the first US city ever to convert sewage into methane gas on a large scale. The plan calls for the complete recycling of at least 90% of the approximately 140,000 tons a year of “biosolids” produced by the citizens of San Antonio into water for agricultural irrigation, solid compost and now, methane gas, which will be used for the generation of electrical power.

The facilities for extracting methane gas from sewage will be built by Ameresco, a Massachussetts based natuiral gas company.  Steve Claus, the CEO of the San Antonio project expects the city to realize about $250,000 annually when the facilities are completed in 2010. The facilities are projected to generate between 900,000 and 1.5 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

The idea of sewage derived biogas is being tried, on a significantly smaller scale in a number of other localities throughout the nation including Berkeley, California and West Lafayette, Indiana near Purdue University. The Indiana facility started up on June 6, 2009 and is part of an $8.2 million project to upgrade the plant’s digesters. The digesters, in turn, process sewage, grease and food waste into methane which is then used to run two microturbines. The microturbines produce a portion of the electricity needed to run the plant, representing an eventual savings of $18,000 a year for the city.

As part of its “Green Switch” program the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) extracts methane from the City of Memphis’ wastewater treatment facility. The methane is “co-fired” with coal to produce eight megawatts of power at the TVA’s Allen Fossil Plant. The TVA estimates that the methane produces energy equivalent to 20,000 tons of coal per year.

The municipality of Lille, France began running city buses on a form of modified diesel fuel derived from sewage sludge treated at the Lille-Marquette municipal sewage treatment plant in 1994. Approximately 12.5% of the energy derived from the biogas produced is used for refinining. The initial costs of the project were 4.7 million French Francs (FF) for the biogas scrubbing unit (that cost included design and research costs) and 3.4 million FF for bus engine conversion (PDF file). The first bus cost 600,000 FF to convert.

Based on an operational estimate of 4000 hours per year, the estimated cost per unit of biogas is 2.9 FF per cubic meter of biogas, which although higher than the cost of natural gas currently should become more competitive if, as expected, natural gas, diesel and gasoline prices rise in the future. Fuel efficiency of the biogas burning bus engines was approximately 60% that of diesel burning engines.

Landfill Gas

Another source of methane emissions that shows steady growth, both in the source and it’s utilization, is landfill gas.  As the name suggests, landfill gas is methane produced by the anaerobic decomposition of waste into methane and by-products such as carbon dioxide, sulfur and other chemicals which are often referred to as volatile organic compounds.

Although somewhat more controversial than using sewage as a biogas source, proponents point out that landfills will release methane regardless of what we do. It is better, they argue, to convert that gas primarily into energy and carbon dioxide than to simply allow it to enter the atmosphere. The fact that methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and that half the gas emitted by landfills is, in fact, methane would seem to clinch that argument.

Furthermore, landfills produce more man-made methane than any other source in the US. If, in fact, landfill gas production can properly be classified as a renewable energy project, it has quietly become the one of the most prolific and widespread use of renewables. Texas alone, a relative newcomer to landfill gas utilization has 24 landfill gas energy projects and, according to the EPA, sites suitable for such projects at another 57 locations.

The total production figures for landfill gas can be difficult to ascertain as the EPA combines production figures for landfill gas with production figures for the direct burning of municipal waste.  While properly classified as a renewable energy source, burning municipal waste without safeguards presents a potential source of airborne toxins including heavy metals which can hardly be considered green.

According to those figures five states, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachussetts and California all produced greater than 1 billion kWh of electrical power from the combination of the two sources in 2006. Of those, the greatest production came from Florida which produced 1.9 billion kWh that year.

Source: Green Nation Today

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