Food waste burdens bins, the climate, and wallets

22.5.2023 9.32Updated: 22.5.2023 14.15
Plates on the cafeteria counter.
There are many ways to combat food waste. The removal of trays was one of the changes that made a difference at the Omnia's student cafeteria.Photo: Omnia

In Finland, approximately 360 million kilograms of edible food are thrown away each year, of which restaurants, lunch cafeterias, and municipal food service companies contribute up to 61 million kilograms. It is no wonder that in Espoo, efforts are being made to find increasingly diverse solutions to tackle food waste.

Reducing food waste is one of the measures outlined in Espoo's Climate Watch(external link). This is also required by the renewed waste legislation, which mandates waste record-keeping in kitchen facilities of food service companies. Additionally, companies that generate a minimum of 10 kilograms of organic waste, 5 kilograms of fiber and plastic packaging, and 2 kilograms of glass packaging per week are required to sort their waste.

Monitoring food waste is not just an environmental action; the results are also visible in the economy — especially now that food prices are on the rise. Therefore, even smaller restaurants should consider incorporating monitoring as part of their operations. There are various methods, as explained below.

Small Change, Big Impact

Reducing waste does not happen solely in the kitchen; it requires sustained collaboration between food providers and customers. There are no shortcuts, but even small changes can yield visible results. In Omnia, the Joint Authority of Education in Espoo’s student cafeteria, an unexpectedly easy and effective method was found to reduce plate waste.

"We managed to reduce food waste simply by removing trays from the serving line and switching to a single plate size," says food service coordinator Timo Martin. "Previously, students could take multiple plates of food and discard the leftovers. Now, they can request more if needed. Additionally, the consumption of water and detergent has significantly decreased due to fewer dishes," he describes.

The greatest effort happens in the kitchen

Although leftover plates are the most visible part of food waste for diners, the most significant impact occurs in the kitchen. Espoo Catering, a subsidiary of the City of Espoo, provides approximately 80% of the city's meal services, with main customers being schools and daycare centers.

"We prepare around 80 000 meals daily for a couple of hundred locations and service points – from infants to seniors," describes Johanna Andsten, Quality and Development Manager at Espoo Catering. This scale of operations already has a significant impact on Espoo's food waste and climate goals.

"Together with the City of Espoo, we have set a goal to annually reduce food waste, and we have consistently succeeded in doing so since 2014. Last year, waste decreased by approximately 6%," Andsten summarizes.

In large kitchens, control systems and digitalization play a significant role. Espoo Catering, for example, integrates food waste monitoring, operations management, and recipes in a way that the system can adjust production quantities based on the popularity of dishes.

"We modify our menu based on the feedback we receive. We aim to offer our customers their favorite dishes while also fulfilling our nutritional education responsibility by providing diverse and varied food for all customer groups," Andsten explains. "When less popular dishes are available, we adjust the amount of food in the serving line to influence waste," she adds.

Kitchen expertise and management of the serving line are crucial in tackling food waste since unused food can be cooled and served to customers the following day, for instance. Another way to reduce food waste is to donate or sell leftover food from the serving line. Both Espoo Catering and Omnia sell surplus food to interested parties.

In some restaurants, weighing scales are used to measure plate waste, providing immediate feedback to diners.Photo: Biovaaka

Effective tools aid waste prevention

In many places, weighing scales are used to measure plate waste, providing immediate feedback to diners.

One of the leading manufacturers of these waste scales is the Finnish company Biovaaka, which supplies scales to Espoo Catering, among others."Essentially, we offer digital solutions for monitoring food waste. They allow waste tracking and enable the use of that information for operational development," clarifies Laura Järvinen, Sales and Marketing Manager at Biovaaka. "Many people only see the scale on the customer side and think that it represents the entire service, but there is much more behind it," she adds.

Biovaaka's service is a versatile tool that enables the tracking and reporting of overall waste throughout the entire food chain.

However, Järvinen agrees with other experts that, no matter how good the tool is, it alone cannot solve food waste. It requires the collective efforts of everyone involved. "The most significant impact on the consumer side comes from food education. Children do not have preconceived notions; they grow up with the idea that food should not be wasted, and they will be the ones promoting these values in the future," concludes Järvinen.

Turn waste into benefit

As seen, reducing food waste can be achieved with relatively small changes, but if necessary, waste can be measured accurately down to individual portions. Simply keeping track of waste is a step in the right direction for the climate. And by offering leftover food for sale through specialised services for surplus food, it also benefits the wallet."

TEXT: Mikko Jaakkola

  • Climate
  • Sustainability
  • Entrepreneusrship