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Hotels Are Cooking Up New Initiatives to Reduce Food Waste

Food waste is piling up. By 2030, annual food loss and waste will hit 2.1 billion tons, worth US$1.5 trillion, according to Boston Consulting Group. That's up, respectively, from 1.6 billion tons and US$1.2 trillion in 2011.

As a major source of all those discarded leftovers, hotels are launching projects to order up more sustainable solutions. Before committing to sweeping programs, major chains with hundreds or thousands of hotels are often starting small, rolling out pilot projects to track results and iterate on concepts. Here's how three organizations are cleaning up:

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCANDIC HOTELS

Scandic Hotels uses apps like Karma and Too Good To Go, which sell leftover food for half-price.

Test Kitchen

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ISTOCKPHOTO

Hilton wants to halve its global food waste by 2030. To get there, Hilton partnered with World Wildlife Fund to conduct a series of projects starting in 2017. The pilots tested different waste reduction strategies, from donating leftover food to composting it. The global hospitality company also created a platform for its hotels to input monthly waste data, allowing Hilton to track progress at a holistic level.

The tests generated many key lessons, says Terry Jenkins, senior manager, corporate responsibility, Americas, Hilton, Seattle, Washington, USA. At the top of the list: Building a comprehensive training approach, with leaders working directly with team members—and across departments—helps ensure buy-in from the whole organization.

Hilton applied that lesson when scaling food waste reduction programs across its hotels. “With the full launch, we recommended that leaders complete the full training course first and then deliver that in-person to their teams, allowing for more discussion, application and defined action,” Ms. Jenkins says.

The payoff has been huge. In 2018, Hilton was able to divert more than 3 million pounds (1.4 million kilograms) of organic waste from landfills, and it was able to donate more than 1.2 million pounds (544,311 kilograms) of prepared food.

Mobile Appetite

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Scandic Hotels, which has 280 locations across six Nordic countries, took a digital approach. It connected with the apps Karma and Too Good To Go, which help hospitality businesses sell leftover food for half-price. Since piloting the approach with two hotels in 2017, Scandic has rolled out the program to 90 percent of the chain's hotels in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany. “It's super popular,” says Vanessa Butani, director of sustainable business, Scandic Hotels, Stockholm, Sweden.

Making sure leftover food that's sold meets food quality standards has been a major focus for the projects, which required a team effort. “The general manager or the head of the restaurant has to want this, but the kitchen staff has to be on board as well,” Ms. Butani says. In part, she says, that's because it takes a little time to capture the pictures and put all the food up for sale, so everyone in the kitchen must be a part of the process. Last year, the chain saved more than 125,000 portions of unsold food because of discount sales via the app.

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—Vanessa Butani, Scandic Hotels, Stockholm, Sweden

Scandic is also experimenting with other digital food waste reduction measures. In May, some locations began piloting an AI-based machine learning system that tracks food waste—what type of food is ending up in the trash and how much of it. The data gives hotel managers actionable insights on where to focus efforts to reduce food waste. “We're really working with all that feedback so that we can share it across the group, so we can work on a bigger scale with food waste,” Ms. Butani says. “That's when we can have a really big impact.”

Digestive Aid

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At The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, USA, food waste is fed to a mechanical “digester.” The machine uses microorganisms to break down food into reusable water that's returned to the sewer—and diverted from ending up in a landfill. More than 11,234 pounds (5,096 kilograms) of waste has been diverted since the project launched last year. In turn, that has created 944 gallons (3,573 liters) of water while also reducing the hotel's carbon dioxide footprint by 4 metric tons. —Michael Wasney

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