Adapated from an article in Meetings Today magazine, April, 2019

The amount of food and water wasted at events is staggering, to say the least.

“Planners probably don’t realize that the water footprint for 750 attendees for a conference program, tote bag and two cups of coffee could fill and Olympic-sized swimming pool,” says Jane Scaletta, DMCP, CIS, of Orlando’s event company Dolfin Destinations, to help participants at a SITE Florida & Caribbean event visualize the industry’s impact on the environment.

The SITE event on sustainability for the meetings and incentive industry was aimed at stemming the flow from kitchen to landfill.

Scaletta has long been passionate about sustainability and knew the chapter’s board was ready to spread the word about recycling and food rescue at events.

At the event there was talk about the ISO 2021 guidelines and United Nations Sustainability Development Goals. Included were International Standards to promote social sustainability by helping countries and communities improve the health and well-being of their citizens.

They covered all aspects of social welfare including the following:

  • Healthcare systems and related products related to social inclusion and accessibility
  • Helping businesses and countries manage their environmental impact by implementing an environmental management system .
  • Measuring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption
  • Encouraging responsible consumption.

Scaletta said there are a variety of ways to reduce food waste at meetings and events. “We have a step-by-step food rescue plan for event managers and planners to help alleviate food waste. It starts with negotiating contracts with hotels and other venues on what to do when food is left over after an event,” she said. 

John Buschman, Ph. D., a lecturer at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management in North Miami, also spoke at the SITE sustainability event. He noted that a 15 percent reduction in food waste in the U.S. could feed 25 million people.

Buschman has been championing sustainability for the past 10 years, since he first saw food being thrown out after the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, hosted by Florida International University.

“In 2006 it rained during one of the festival’s biggest events; there was an enormous amount of food left over and our student volunteers insisted something had to be done with it,” Buschman said. “In subsequent years we got more organized, connected with food banks and created a system. The first year we rescued about three to five thousand pounds of food. At our peak, we’ve rescued 40,000 pounds of usable food nutrition and other supplies from the four-day festival!

“Since reaching that peak we’ve learned how to cut our waste in half and deliver the other, unused half to places like the Miami Rescue mission, which serves 1,900 meals a day,” he said.

Buschman recommends such planner’s tools as the Sustainable Events Network, Florida & Caribbean’s site and American Hotel and Lodging Association’s site to planners.

The Sustainable Events Network, Florida & Caribbean website provides a handy one-page guide to help planners create their own plan for rescuing food as well as a video that walks planners through a case study of the annual NACE event. The AHLA website is a broader effort financed through World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with support from he Rockefeller Foundation and aims to work with the hospitality industry to understand and reduce food waste.

Hotelkitchenorg states its goal is to: “change the flow of food, cutting food waste in hotel kitchens to protect the planet and fight hunger while providing the ultimate guest experience.” This website includes videos on training hotel staff to cut waste, a toolkit on planning a food waste-management journey, resources and case studies.

One case study demonstrates how Hyatt has educated staff in reducing food waste.

The Hyatt Regency Orlando, for example, participated in a three-day exercise to redesign the standard hotel buffet under the leadership of its executive chef and with the support from the hotel’s senior director of events. 

“Hyatt Corporate is working on making this a worldwide initiative, but there are so many moving parts that it cannot happen overnight. We are starting with implementing small steps, and working up to do more over time,” says Hyatt Regency’s senior director of events, Cornelia Jung. “We are starting with implementing small steps and working up to do more over time.

“As the largest hotel in the company, we face these food waste issues on a daily basis, so we were thrilled to be asked to participate and be a part of a think tank working to efface these issues,” she continued. “Internally, we started to do little things, such as focus on smaller portions and replenish only as needed. We are very conscious that items that hit a buffet table cannot be reused, so we don’t put too much food out in order to reduce waste,” said Jung. 

The WWF food waste team visited Hyatt Regency Orlando to observe and audit a large buffet style lunch event. The WWF team’s recommendations had a noticeable impact on the chef and kitchen staffs’ meal production procedures. The hotel team decreased their standard production rate by 25% per event. Additionally, by using a “just in time” mindset to analyze the first-day orders by attendees of the same multi-day meeting, the hotel team could better prepare meals and portions for later days, to meet those guests’ specific preferences. 

Good Planning Cuts Food Waste

“If you look at any of the literature from the American Lodging Association, or National Restaurant Association, the first line of defense in reducing food waste is better planning,” said Buschman. 

“If you predict how much and what type of food we need to produce in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be one grain of rice left over. We know that’s never going to happen because all planners want to be careful not to run out of food and every event is different. The second line of defense against food waste is to have a plan to recover anything that is recoverable.”

Buschman suggests visiting homeless shelters where you might meet that need and also notes that food no longer safe for human consumption (like scraps on a buffet) can still be salvaged for good use.  

The Broward County Convention Center, for example, sends their scraps to a pig farm. Disney ships its leftovers to the Harvest Power plant (between EPCOT and Animal Kingdom), a $30 million energy garden that processes about 350 tons of food waste per day, turning food waste into electricity that helps power the resort and its rides.

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