Three ways to measure food waste

In a nutshell

The prevention of food waste is important for increasing the sustainability of public meals from an ethical, economic, and environmental perspective. Food waste prevention is one of the aims of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy (Sustainability and food in a policy context). This tool provides three approaches to measuring food waste. It is useful for public administrations, catering services, and kitchen professionals. This tool provides necessary steps and highlights the advantages and disadvantages of the three approaches.

Necessary Steps

  • Appoint a central coordinator in the municipality’s administration who will be responsible for organising and monitoring the progress in preventing food waste.
  • Investigate a range of methods for measuring food waste in public kitchens and assess the benefits and challenges of each method. Here are three example methods:
    • Method A: The kitchen staff sorts and measures food waste.
    • Method B: An external partner sorts and measures food waste in some (randomly selected) public kitchens.
    • Method C: The kitchen staff sorts the waste into food waste and other waste. The waste disposal enterprise weighs the food waste.
  • Decide on a method. Take into account the nature of public kitchens, the scale, and the resources available for implementing the initiative.
  • Decide which and how many kitchens will be involved in the food waste measurement scheme.
  • Depending on the method you pick, set aside resources (hours and budget) in both the public authority and the kitchens. Keep in mind that measuring food waste will pose an extra workload for the kitchen staff. Consider setting a starting date and ending date for the food waste measuring scheme.
  • Decide on a timeline which outlines how frequently (once a week or daily) food waste measurements will be carried out.
  • Especially if you pick method A, be sure to create informational material targeted at the kitchen staff, including instructions for kitchen leaders on how to motivate co-workers to engage in the action. Explain why food waste measurement is being implemented by explaining the beneficial effects on finances, resource use, and the environment.
  • Instruct and provide support to kitchen staff to help them overcome difficulties with the sorting and measuring.
  • Collect the food waste measurement data and share progress updates with the kitchens.

More Issues To Consider

If you pick Method A (the kitchen staff sort and measure food waste), please consider the following:

  • Advantages: the direct involvement of staff means that the individual employee feels more ownership and understands which routines and practices can be changed to reduce food waste. Find out whether digital measuring tools would be available to facilitate the measuring procedures. Method A is particularly suitable for larger-scale production kitchens where efficiency and workflow monitoring procedures are already in place.
  • Disadvantages: It takes time to get acquainted with measuring food waste, and it requires many resources. This strategy is often associated with inaccurate estimates of total food waste, because it is organisationally difficult to keep track of, particularly if there are many small production kitchens involved.

If you pick Strategy B (an external partner sorts and measures food waste in randomly-selected public kitchens), please consider the following:

  • Decide how many kitchen samples need to be taken, the time period in which the food waste must be collected and sorted, and the number of waste types the food waste needs to be sorted into (e.g. edible/ non-edible food waste).
  • Advantage: this method can be used without involving the kitchen staff, which saves time and resources.
  • Disadvantage: the kitchen staff do not necessarily feel ownership of the scheme, nor do they necessarily develop an understanding of where to intervene to prevent food waste.

If you pick Strategy C (the kitchen staff sorts the waste into food waste and other waste, and a waste disposal enterprise weighs the food waste), please consider the following:

  • Advantage: this is a non-invasive method involving the kitchen staff. Employees become more aware of the food waste dimension in their kitchen.
  • Disadvantage: separate containers for food waste need space, which might be a challenge for some kitchens.

Further Information

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