Markus Oberlin  is CEO of Farnek. Markus Oberlin is CEO of Farnek.

Food waste and Ramadan have become somewhat intertwined for the hospitality, a time when hotels host lavish banquets for hundreds of guests — the region’s restaurants following suit — the industry finds itself tied between impressing guests in a highly competitive market and addressing a sharp rise in consumer concern about exactly what happens to uneaten food after suhoor.

Across Dubai, 38% of the food prepared is wasted every day, rising to 60% during Ramadan, and 29% of food purchased by hotels kitchens is wasted.

The average waste sent to landfill by a hotel in the UAE is in excess of 1,200 tonnes per annum, with half of that generated by food. It’s enough to fill an average size hotel room every five days but considering up to 44% of food on the daily lunch buffet is wasted, it’s easy to see how the numbers add up.

When the numbers per guest are calculated, the average UAE hotel guest is responsible for 8.56kg of waste per night. To put that in context the European average stands at 1.2kg and, on a global scale, anything over 2kg per guest per night is considered high.

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In the UAE this is only the tip of the iceberg. During the Holy Month the waste per night per guest can increase by as much as 50% compared to other months, with the extra mostly contributed by uneaten food.

In real terms, this costs the average hotel in the UAE up to US $14,000 in waste management every year, with around half of this contributed by food which is either spoiled, inedible by-products or peel, kitchen error and plate waste. Yet good recycling practices can reduce losses on food by up to 25% — and impress guests.

The irony is the region’s current rates of food waste win no points with guests as demand from travellers for hotels to adopt sustainable practices continues to rise. The Global Business Traveler Survey 2013 revealed that as high as 47% of respondents considered it important to stay in a certified green hotel, with a further 7% of the respondents considering green certifications to be an ‘extremely important’ factor in their choice of hotel.

The trend continued among F&B consumers, with 60% choosing restaurants with sustainable measures in place — such as an active recycling system — and would even be willing to frequent venues that cost up to10% more.

Yet the problem of food waste isn’t exclusive to the hospitality industry, or to the UAE. Around four billion tonnes of food is produced for human consumption every year and up to 1.3 billion tonnes is lost or wasted — the equivalent of one in every four calories. This costs roughly $680 billion in industrialised countries and $310 billion in developing countries. Reducing the numbers by a quarter would be enough to feed 870 million people.

That’s just the start of the environmental impact. Food waste generates huge amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases and, on a global scale, if food waste was a country it would be the world’s third largest emitter of CO2 after the US and China.

Many hotels and restaurants have already implemented inventive and effective solutions and it isn’t difficult, or too late, for others to follow.

The first step in any strategy should be to reduce the amount of waste generated — assess where the waste is occurring and discover how those foods can be repurposed into different dishes before they spoil. For buffets, reducing the food on offer is not an option, but introducing live cooking stations, a select menu and elements of a la carte ordering, can significantly reduce the amount of food that cannot be reused, especially at breakfast.

Food that cannot be re-served or donated can be used as fertilizer or feed. Even old coffee grounds can make a decent fertilizer for gardens, vegetable patches and herbs.

Dubai Municipality is fully supporting the industry and some hotels have already achieved a 1% or 2% waste to landfill target. But there is more to be done.

With each Ramadan we hear of a new scheme to reduce and re-distribute unwanted food — sending parcels to labour camps, distributing meals through mosques.

Earlier this year, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, launched the UAE Food Bank scheme, which plans for 30 locations across the city where large businesses, hotels and supermarkets can leave donations. During the Holy Month the scheme will extend to 100 locations in mosques, residential areas and public places across Dubai and non-businesses will also be able to donate.

Part of The Year of Giving, the ultimate ambition is to eliminate food waste in landfills by 2030 — a move that would make Dubai the first city in the Middle East to redirect all its food waste.

Such programmes are vital to raising awareness of just how much food is sent to landfill and how the environmental impact of that continues for many months to come.

However, the real impact of waste reduction occurs in the other 11 months of the year — and with the call to action now loud and clear, we will all have to do our part.

About the Author: Markus Oberlin is the CEO of Farnek. Contact