People are dipping their toes into sustainable living and advocating farm-to-table and slow food movements. A lot of this has to do with supporting our farmers. However, in the process, we have forgotten about waste minimization. The impact that the food, beverage, and retail sectors can have on the environment is profound and in a country like the Philippines, we need to learn, grow, and change immediately. We need to be creative and, most importantly, we need to care.

Dumping costs

There are international companies that try to do their bit (sometimes by force as they need to be seen as socially responsible) and many international hotels weigh and measure their wet garbage and focus on reducing the amounts each month and year. Still, the numbers clearly prove that we are not doing enough and that more needs to be done.

These large establishments spend time educating their employees about innovative ways to use trimmings and scraps and prevent items from expiring—pork skin is turned into chicharon, beef trimmings go into stock pots to create sauces, and lemon rind is used in bars for garnishes or to flavor spirits. Herbs that are not pretty enough to land on the plate go into bottles to create “gourmet” oil flavors, and the leaves, skins, and outer layers of fruit and vegetables go into a separate bin, which is collected each week by organic farmers who use them for compost heaps.

Strawberries, bananas, and other fruits that are not beautiful enough for display due to minor blemishes are blended and used for drinks, cocktails, syrups, sauces, and shakes. And used oil is donated to small soap manufacturers who convert it into soap or to pharmaceutical companies for cosmetics. With careful and efficient ordering procedures, unnecessary food waste may be avoided. All it really takes is effort and education and the company will be rewarded with reduced costs and minimal wastage. Smaller establishments find this more challenging as educating, measuring, and implementing costs time and money.

The impact that the food, beverage, and retail sectors can have on the environment is profound and in a country like the Philippines, we need to learn, grow, and change immediately. We need to be creative and, most importantly, we need to care.

Less waste equates to more savings. That is something not many people realize. By monitoring the food that comes back to the kitchen, the restaurant staff can easily identify which dishes are constantly left on the plate. Smaller and balanced portions mean less waste, less garbage, and greater profits. We can also find people, other businesses, or creative ways to use our leftovers and food waste to minimize paying for garbage removal. Or ensure our menus have enough dishes on them that utilize the same ingredients to prevent items from spoiling. Proper storage and inventory management prevent cross-contamination and spoilage, too. These are some practical ways to reduce waste that require just a few tweaks and adjustments in operations.

Did you know that establishments in big malls are charged a calculated fee for garbage removal? If we want to inspire change and the reduction of food waste, how about charging operators based on the weight of their garbage? That way, restaurants will be driven to minimize their rubbish and be more responsible and conscious of their cooking. In line with this, rewards can be given to establishments that manage to hit low food waste by paying less expense, for instance. This will encourage them to employ best practices when managing their trash.

Stir the pot

With the coffee revolution in the Philippines, what are cafés doing with all the used ground coffee? Well, the sad truth is not much. While composing this piece, I sat in and visited six different small coffee shops and all of them told me that they simply throw their scraps in the bin. On average, they would collectively have at the very least 10 to 20 kilos of ground coffee a day. That adds to up to 140 kilos a week. Instead of landing in the can, that can be used in a variety of ways:

Coffee beans are great additions to compost heaps. Worms are attracted to them. Plus, ground coffee adds much needed nitrogen to the soil.

• Mixing coffee grounds with seeds before you plant carrots and radishes will keep pests and bugs away and increase your harvest.

• You can grow fungi (mushrooms) with just coffee grounds and mushroom spores.

• Worms, slugs, snails, and other bugs do not like the acidity of coffee and won’t cross the ground if it’s sprinkled with java.

• Using a coffee-soil mix for your flowers lengthens your cut flowers’ life. It also acts as an air freshener in the room.

• Instead of baking soda, use a box of used coffee grounds to absorb nasty aromas in your fridge.

Knowing these and with proper information dissemination, we can encourage establishments and farmers to work together. Both can win from this partnership.

As an industry, we are learning but not doing enough. Give waste a second life. Or better yet, avoid producing it. As a mentor once taught me, “The only way to get change is when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.”

Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 14 No. 1