Setting Sights on Zero-Waste Operations


When operators talk about waste, the first item that comes to mind is food. But there are plenty of other wasteful avenues anyone interested in creating a zero-waste establishment can explore. The challenge for many is knowing when and where to invest and, more often than not, they’re not seeing the whole picture, according to industry experts.

“One hard idea to reconcile is operators are typically dealing with waste when it happens and factoring that into their costs,” says Josh Wolfe, corporate chef and director of Sales – Ontario for Food Service Solutions Inc. in Mississauga, Ont. “That’s a bit of a backward approach.”

He likens it to the notion of defensive driving. “You can learn how to brake when sliding on ice or get out of dangerous situations. Or you can anticipate what’s around you and put your focus on keeping the right distances or slowing down when conditions are bad. If you do that, you won’t need to take corrective measures.”

Equipment can serve the same preventative purpose, he says. “There are a few processes that can come into play to help treat food differently to mitigate waste. In North America, we cook and serve and hot-hold food so it’s ready quickly. That’s outdated. Cook-chill is the way to go. It’s a much better process with the right combination of equipment.”

That combination would typically include a blast chiller, vacuum sealing (to preserve food longer) and a combi and/or rapid-cook oven. “With cook-chill, you can buy large cases of proteins, apply cooking methods such as sous vide or a combi oven — both of which work hand in hand with the chiller — and finish items when ordered. You reduce waste and service time and you no longer have to pre-anticipate because you’re cooking precisely what you need.”

Not only can operators reduce food waste, intelligent appliances only use energy when it’s required, he says. “They also help reduce waste through human error because they can be programmed to cook things consistently with little training.”

Leaning more on technology can play an enormous role in reducing waste on many fronts, Wolfe notes. “There’s a new DRY AGER cabinet, for example, that manages its own moisture. Instead of losing 25 per cent of volume, dry-aging loses less than 10 per cent. That saves a tremendous amount of waste and increases revenues.”

One other discipline chefs need to consider is quantifying their waste and its dollar value, he adds. “It’s easy to do that with labour and is measurable up front.”

For Andrew Shakman, president and CEO of Leanpath in Beaverton, Ore., zero waste is all about measurement and analytics. “Historically, there’s been no easy way to measure food waste. In fact, it’s the most undermanaged part of most foodservice operations.”

Leanpath’s food-waste equipment platform combines intelligent scales, cameras and touchscreen devices with cloud-based analytics and tools. “This equipment is about driving awareness and changing behaviours in kitchens. Waste reduction occurs when people are making smarter decisions on what they produce and serve. You can only do that when you operate from an informed position.”

Even if you don’t look at the data, the improvement is almost immediate. “Having control-systems equipment people can see helps shape a kitchen’s culture and behaviour.”

IKEA Canada began working with Leanpath’s food-waste tracking program in December 2018 as part of its global mandate to reduce food waste by 50 per cent by 2020. It reached the 31-per-cent mark within one year of implementing the program, reports Melissa Mirowski, Sustainability manager, IKEA Canada. More than 94,000 kgs. of food waste have been saved since the program started — the equivalent of approximately 200,000 meals.

“With the program, we’ve been able to track all food waste in real time. The data is automatically updated onto the Leanpath platform where co-workers can see what is wasted, how much and why. The predictive reporting helps us identify ways to prevent waste through efficient meal planning and material handling. The biggest surprise was that something so simple could create such a big impact across the board.”

Beyond food, there are other ways to keep items out of waste streams, says Chris Knight, consultant with The Fifteen Group in Toronto. “Purchasing second-hand equipment is an opportunity for restaurants to save money and be effective in their cost management. It also keeps things out of landfill and recycling plants.”

Another area that is gaining momentum is biodegradable takeout packaging. “The improvements we’re seeing are unbelievable. We’re now seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of different packaging using natural products — from corn-based to hemp-based to soy — that do a good job. Even the major chains are working on making the transition to more natural packaging products. They cost more than Styrofoam or plastic, but [operators] can recoup that with a price adjustment.”

For those with one-time-use objects that have no place to go, TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes group in Trenton, N.J., has been running a program for hard-to-recycle items not accepted in traditional waste-management streams, explains Rhandi Goodman, global VP. Customers simply order one of its cardboard waste boxes for recycling specific items (e.g. hairnets, gloves, chip bags, plastic wrap, rigid containers, disposable cutlery, coffee cups) to be shipped to their venue.

Each box includes a shipping label so it can be sent back for recycling. “Operators can pick what items they want to collect and place them in a designated area,”
she says.

Zero-waste initiatives don’t necessarily have to be on a grand scale to make a difference. Many smaller outlets, including cafés, are equally committed to reducing waste in their operations.

At Golden Gecko Coffee in Toronto, Jake Healy says he’s always searching for innovative, environmentally sustainable options for his restaurant. “I find Kickstarter (a global crowdfunding platform focused on creativity) useful to find innovative crowdsourcing projects,” he says.

He’s always open to trying out programs focused on eliminating the use of disposable coffee cups and recently joined a pilot project with Reego, a new reusable takeout-cup concept where the café charges a one-time $5 deposit for a cup and lid that can be switched for a clean one at any other cafe participating in the program. The company claims if only one-per-cent of Toronto’s takeout coffees were served in reusable takeout containers instead of single-use disposable, more than seven-million disposable cups and lids would be kept out of landfills and oceans.

Healy has also sourced a plant-based reusable HuskeeCup for in-store customers. “Reusable cups really help reduce the waste stream in the coffee industry,”
he says.

Christie Peters, chef/co-owner of The Hollows and Primal in Saskatoon, says she’s always had a zero-waste mindset since opening her first restaurant in 2011. Because Saskatoon didn’t have the compost or pickup systems you would typically see, “I had to come up with my own systems, working with local farmers and other partners to be able to run a no-waste operation.”

She only uses biodegradable papers and napkins and harvests honey from a beehive on the restaurant’s roof. She also does whole-animal butchery, using the bones for stocks and sauces and dries and burns them for the compost. “We just got a hammer mill for grinding the bones and bloodmeals for our garden.”

All equipment is second hand, including a dehydrator and “a beautiful old combi steam oven we use for canning and preserving,” she says. “We do a ton of canning, pickling, fermenting, drying, freezing and smoking.”

Tables and chairs are reclaimed and refurbished pieces. “If anything breaks, we get it repaired. We don’t throw it out.”

The waste water from the water-cooled fridge is looped to water the patio plants. “We’re looking to push that further and put in a holding tank for flushing toilets.” Her newest project is an aquaponic system at Primal where fish fertilize greens.

“People think sustainability is expensive. But the less waste you create, the more money you save. Why buy fertilizer for your garden when you can compost? Why pay for garbage pickup when you can exchange that compost with the farmers you work with? We have one dumpster for our two restaurants that gets picked up once a month. It’s never full. We’re pretty proud of that.”

Written by Denise Deveau

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