A smiley woman in a beige apron serving a sandwich on a plate

Source: Getty Images / Piksel

Just a handful of simple processes can help transform a bakery café into a zero-waste business, according to waste management experts.

The UK hospitality industry is said to create £3.2 billion of food waste each year, with perfectly edible leftovers and excess packaging given as examples of avoidable waste. Disposal of product packaging is also part of the scope 3 emissions of a business, which has been identified as a crucial barrier to overcome in the journey towards net zero.

A growing number of sustainability-conscious consumers have given rise to a trend in low and zero-waste restaurants – foodservice operators can officially be deemed ‘zero waste’ if 90% of their waste is reused, recycled and diverted from landfill.

To help the likes of bakeries convert to zero-waste models, BusinessWaste.co.uk co-founder Mark Hall has shared the five processes that should be put in place:

Step 1: Conduct a waste audit

Every foodservice business is different, and the path to zero waste begins with an audit of the current waste practices. Evaluate the bins, their types, numbers, and sizes to understand the regular waste output. Identify key areas for waste reduction and start with achievable goals, gradually working towards eliminating waste from all streams.

Step 2: Reduce food waste in the kitchen

Finding ways to eliminate food waste in the kitchen is a lot easier than controlling customers’ leftovers. A few effective ways are by creating a smaller menu and storing all ingredients properly. Use seasonal and local produce where possible to minimise the fuel pollution caused by long-distance transportation.

Bakeries that produce a large amount of waste oil, such as doughnut makers, should always be careful when disposing as it can pollute the environment – use less oil and even reuse the oil where possible. As for the leftover foods, consider greener alternatives such as composting or donating it to animal charities or farms.

Step 3: Follow the FIFO rule for stock control

First In First Out (FIFO) is a straightforward way to reduce food waste. Prioritise items with the shortest use-by dates at the front of shelves and place newer food to the back. Train your staff in this process and conduct weekly reviews for stock rotation. Clear labelling with dates and allergens aids inventory management and prevents accidental disposal of usable food.

Step 4: Avoid packaging and plastic waste

The single-use plastic ban means foodservice operators should no longer provide disposable items like plastic cutlery or cups, and instead have washable and reusable dishware only. With this being a huge source of waste, consider working with suppliers that have plastic-free packaging only and minimise packaging use as much as possible.

Step 5: Provide paperless menus and receipts

Switching to online menus via QR codes or providing digital tablets are the most effective ways to reduce paper waste. Real-time updates help kitchen management, and seasonal changes are seamless online. Another option that might work even better with a cosy café vibe might be chalkboards used as small menus. Lastly, over 11 billion receipts end up in landfill every year, so always try to encourage email receipts over paper ones to further reduce paper waste.

“Aiming to become a zero-waste business is really not as daunting or difficult as it may have been a few years back,” concludes Hall. “It might take some changes in the beginning but it’s all worth it when you realise it saves your business money while it also helps fight the environmental crisis.”