• Carol Lue

Fighting Food Waste in the Caribbean Tourism Sector: A Case for Massive Cost Savings

Updated: Mar 4

UNEP’s 2021 Food Waste Index report estimates that around 931 million tons of food waste was generated in 2019, of which over 25% was derived from food service.[1] Yet a disturbing 71% of the Caribbean population faced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020.[2]

In the Caribbean, the dominant tourism sector as a major generator of food waste is strategically positioned to lead industry in solving the issue. The hotel industry is particularly known for their excessive food production and waste. Inefficient meal planning, excessive meal preparation, lack of understanding and monitoring of food waste cost, low hotel staff awareness, and lack of commitment from management to reduce food waste are a few of the many reasons.


While the environmental and social benefits of fighting food waste to help mitigate climate change and hunger are clear, the economic case for massive cost savings from reducing food waste is just as strong and compelling.

 
Case in Point #1: The simple action of action of training staff to consistently separate and measure food waste can readily reduce food waste by up to 30%.

Presentation from CaribShare's Food Waste Conference featuring Samantha Kenny, Senior Program Officer - Food Waste Team at World Wildlife Fund.


Samantha’s full presentation can be found here. World Wildlife Fund and the American Hotel and Lodging Association created the HotelKitchen Toolkit to provide practical steps, instructions, and resources for a hotel property of any size to PREVENT food waste from occurring at their properties; DONATE what cannot be prevented but are still safe for people to eat; and DIVERT the rest away from landfills.


 
Case in Point #2: The cost savings from reducing food waste are quite considerable. Winnow’s AI system typically helps hotels to reduce their food waste by over 50%, resulting in 2-8% food cost savings.

Presentation from CaribShare's Food Waste Conference featuring Gina Sears, Business Development Officer– Winnow Solutions.


Winnow’s technology tools (digital scale, AI camera) readily measures food waste, monitors food waste reduction, and calculates food cost savings. A small hotel with an annual food budget of $200k typically achieves $10k in annual savings. A medium hotel with an annual food budget of $400k typically achieves $20k in annual savings. A large hotel with an annual food budget of $1m typically achieves $50k in annual savings.


With the business case well established, we do hope that the Caribbean tourism sector will now be inspired to lead and take proactive action on food waste.


 

The CaribShare Perspective / Background Story:


Creating CaribShare, Jamaica’s first organic waste recycling program, has been one of my most rewarding achievements to date. CaribShare collected and recycled over 60 bins of food waste daily from eight hotels in Montego Bay: Iberostar, Half Moon, Hyatt Ziva Zilara, RIU Reggae, RIU Palace, RIU Montego Bay, Sandals Royal and Sandals Montego Bay resorts.


Our committed team of 10 persons operated a large scale biodigester plant that turned the food waste into biogas and organic fertilizer (2016-9). However, after 3 years of operations, the program unfortunately stopped as the hotels were not willing to pay for the service, although it had elevated their sustainability programs, and significantly lowered their environmental footprint and cost.


Thanks to grant funding, the hotels benefited from the recycling service free of cost for those 3 years. At the onset, I figured that the hotels would only participate if the service was offered at no charge, as they would consider recycling simply as an additional cost to their budget, and knowing that environmental considerations are truly not prioritized.


So, I experimented – I thought that offering the free service initially would allow the hotels to experience and to value the benefits so they would then be willing to pay a small fee. However, I lost the gamble as only 1 out the 8 hotels was willing to pay for the recycling service after the 3 years.


Many choose instead to offer their food waste only to a few pig farmers who would collect the waste on their own dime. However, a good portion of the leftovers is still fit for human consumption, and if stored appropriately and redistributed to those in need in a timely fashion could help fight hunger. Additionally, the pig farmers alone cannot dispose of the total quantities of food waste generated; leaving significant portions that could be recycled into organic fertilizer or compost to help reduce local dependency on imported synthetic fertilizers. In its true cooperative spirit, CaribShare both recycled food waste into useful biogas and soil enrichment outputs in addition to sharing some with its pig farmer partners.


CaribShare offloading its organic waste recycling bins at one of the participating hotels.


Feeling disappointed that the hotels still did not really value recycling, I was about to give up. Then, Martha Honey, the Co-Founder and Director Emeritus of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), urged me to not lose hope, but instead to present recycling as part of the holistic sustainable food waste management equation. And, so at her advice, I took another gamble to engage the hotels in the fight against food waste.


Collaborating with CREST and World Wildlife Fund, CaribShare thereafter successfully organized and hosted Jamaica’s 1st Food Waste Conference in January 2021. The event broadened the business case for holistic sustainable food waste management to include food waste reduction and food donations as well as food waste recycling to 15 hotels in the Montego Bay and Trelawny areas. Essentially, we carefully crafted our conference program to demonstrate that the considerable financial savings incurred from reducing food waste would easily offset the cost of food donation and recycling activities.


In the end, the gamble paid off partially. 1 hotel decided to implement a composting program to support their Farm to Table offering, and 5 out of the 15 hotels in attendance indicated an interest in recycling services post conference. However, the interest and willingness to pay shown by those hotels was directly due to a corporate global mandate for all their properties to manage their waste sustainably and to limit the quantities of organic waste sent to landfills.


While I am glad that such mandates have begun to put focus on food waste, Jamaica and the Caribbean really should not rely on foreign corporate mandates to dictate our environmental safeguards. Based on my experiences (gambles), I am even more convinced and adamant that food waste laws and policies are needed. Presenting a compelling business case to industry stakeholders just isn’t sufficient for appropriate action to be taken on food waste.



Sources:

1. United Nations Environment Program, 2021. UNEP Food Waste Index Report, (available at https://www.unep.org/resources/report/unep-food-waste-index-report-2021).

2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2021. Latin America and the Caribbean – Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2021, (available at https://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/cb7497en).