Not only is cutting our food waste good for the planet, but can also be benefical for the bottom line of business ...


IF we are what we eat, then what does the food we throw away say about us? Well, when it comes to Scottish businesses, that food waste could represent an opportunity missed. Cutting food waste offers Scotland’s businesses a chance to not only contribute to the country’s efforts to beat climate change – it can also have a positive effect on their finances.

Of all the climate challenges we face, food waste is perhaps the most personal. Tackling climate change requires serious action across every area of our economy.  But while we can all celebrate the continued success of renewable energy or note with pleasure that our local bus service is now running more low-emission vehicles in its fleet, these somehow don’t quite compare to our relationship with what’s on our plate.
Food waste is not only personal, it’s also the area where people can potentially have the biggest direct impact. Recent research from the University of Otago, commissioned by Love Food Hate Waste New Zealand, showed that small changes at home can make a big difference to how long fresh food will remain fresh and usable. Researchers at the university analysed different methods of storing food – in one example, careful storage helped keep carrots fit for use for up to ten times longer.

If individual consumers can make such a big difference simply by changing how they store their fruit and veg, it makes you wonder how what impact businesses can make.

The evidence shows that the potential is huge. Estimates suggest the amount of food which could have been eaten but is being thrown away by food service outlets is equivalent to one in six meals. That’s a huge amount of food going to waste – and that carries a significant cost.

The dual cost – to a business’s bottom line and to the planet – is key to tackling food waste in business. There is no trade-off between doing the right thing for the climate and doing the right thing for your business.

There is huge scope for businesses, as well as all of us at home, to reduce the amount of produce going to waste. Research suggests that up to 75% of food waste from the food service sector could be avoided and it is estimated that a staggering £166 million could be saved in Scotland through food waste prevention in the hospitality and food services sector alone. The potential returns on investment are equally impressive. An international industry analysis identified that there is a compelling business case for food service operators serving hospitals, schools, sports arenas and other facilities to reduce food waste. The ‘Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Catering’ shows that for every USD $1 caterers invested in programmes to curb food waste, they saved more than $6 in operating costs. 

Zero Waste Scotland offers free food waste audits and implementation support to SMEs to help cut costs and reduce carbon footprints through Zero Waste Scotland, carried out by specialist consultants to help evaluate existing food and drink waste streams and provide detailed recommendations on how the waste can be reduced. 

One business taking up the offer is Swannay Brewery, which based in Orkney. Seeing good beer go to waste is always a shame, but it’s especially painful if you’re the people brewing and selling it. Our audit identified opportunities for reducing waste in the cask-filling process that could bring potential annual savings of nearly £10,000 and reduce carbon emissions by 21 tonnes. 

A significant proportion of beer was being lost in the casking process. The manual process involved filling the casks by hose. But with no valve on the hose, the Swannay brewing team was losing beer when they switched barrels. In fact, they were losing 5,680 litres a year. By installing a cask racker – which fills the cask to a set volume and eliminate spillage – this could be cut down to practically zero. The initial investment was a hefty £18,500, but with savings of just under £10,000 a year this would be paid back in only two years.

There’s been an impressive commitment from Scotland’s businesses to tackle the issue. Many of the companies trading in our food and drink sector in Scotland have signed up to the Courtauld 2025 commitment – an ambitious voluntary agreement that brings together organisations across the food system to make food and drink production and consumption more sustainable.

What consumers expect from businesses is also changing. Recent research from ThoughtWorks found that reducing packaging and increasing recycling are set to become the number one issues for British shoppers – more important even than price. 48% said reducing food waste would be a top issue for the future. With an ever more sustainability-minded public, the opportunities for businesses that can cut their food waste are only set to grow in.”