Rethinking food systems that don't cost the Earth: Circular Restaurants

With its size and nature, the restaurant industry is resource hungry and generates large volumes of waste. Resources used include both food ingredients and technical equipment, water, and energy. Waste includes leftover food as well as processing, packaging, and structural waste (underutilised assets). So how do we work with restaurants and the wider foodservice sector to help them become more restorative?


India is currently generating 0.8kg / waste/person daily in metro cities along with the current pandemic situation making it worse. The total municipal solid waste generated is estimated at 68.8 million tons per year of which 51% is organic waste, 21% is inert waste and 17% is recyclables.


The hospitality industry in India currently wastes 40% of the food generated having a worth of Rs. 50,000 Crores annually. Increasing urbanization and the fast lifestyle is making the food system more complex and impactful on the ecosystem. It has become one of the most visited and time spending places. According to a survey, in the year 2018, 38% of people liked to have fast food in restaurants one to three times per week. In large cities like Mumbai, the cost for per capita per meal in inexpensive restaurant averages to Rs. 300. In the year 2017 – 18, per capita spending in restaurants & hotels was Rs. 1,531. India has about 53,000 hotels and 70 Lakh restaurants in the organized sector and 2.3 Crore restaurants in the unorganized sector.


Taking an international perspective, one restaurant or café stands for every 30 persons in large cities like London & New York. The global restaurant industry is estimated to contribute 5% of the overall global economy. Being one of the large industries, it is also contributing to the potent greenhouse gases (that is., methane and carbon dioxide) that results from the anaerobic digestion of the organic waste given out by this industry.


Mckinsey (2015) report analysis the benefits of reducing the losses in the food industry and also defines some ways to reduce the losses. These include:

- Redistributing the uneaten food using apps like TooGoodtoGo

- Use of doggy bags to take the uneaten food back home

- Using technologies like AI & platforms like Winnow & LeanPath to quantify and allowing chefs to make wiser buying decisions on procurement.


A circular economy is an economy model that’s replacing the current linear model (Take – make – use – dispose of). The circular economy takes a systematic approach to solve a problem to eliminate the waste generated by it. The restaurants being a resource-intensive industry which includes the use of a large amount of energy and resources, ‘Circular Restaurant’ is a new and innovative approach to reduce the ecological impact yet improving on economic profitability and customer health benefits. The following examples illustrate the concept.


Sharing Kitchen

With the small-scale business booming around the world, the space for experimenting is limited or not affordable for them. Shared Kitchen is a rental based-model for commercial kitchen space and kitchen equipment’s. This service is suitable for a tenant who:

- Doesn’t want or have a commercial kitchen space

- Want to market test their food

- Need warehouse space

- Need to expand their initial kitchen space


Some example of the companies implementing the service model includes ‘Cloud Kitchens’, ‘Your Pro Kitchen’ & ‘Kitchen United’. In India, the concept was unknown until the pandemic struck. ‘Outlet Buddy’ is a shared kitchen started by Charul Sehra, Inderdeep Singh & Loveneet Singh amid the lockdown.


Reutilizing waste

A part of the food that is either incinerated or landfilled as a waste ends up being so because of its aesthetics, lack of standard size or labelling issues. Most of these are edible by nature and by redistributing the surplus edible food, more than 1 billion people could be fed by 2050.


Some restaurants implementing this include:

- ‘Loop’ founded by Johanna Kohvakka partners with suppliers/supermarkets around the city. These partners provide the surplus food which is transformed into high-quality canteen food, gourmet meals and ice cream while the unavoidable waste is composted.

- ‘SPILL’ (means ‘waste’ in Swedish) launched by Erik and Ellinor works on the same lines. Their business model revolves around utilizing good quality food waste from wholesalers and cater their menu accordingly.

- ‘Instock’ whose menu changes depending on the local produce and a minimum of 80% of the ingredients come from the recovered food which is unsold or discarded. Within a year of their opening, they were listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 list and in three years period, they opened expanded their service in other cities, namely Utrecht and The Hague.


The idea of utilizing food waste helps these restaurants to be unique, creative & a delicious meal instead of periodic repeating meals.

Sustainable Sea Food

As like all the vegetables and fruits aren’t available in all seasons, seafood (or fishes) also has seasons. The seasonal fishery also exists in seafood. Certain fish has a certain breeding season which is necessary for maintaining the population and to keep up the growing demand. During those months that fish or the fish that gets caught along with breeds.


Hussain Shahzad, Executive Chef at ‘O Pedro’ uses the ‘Know Your Fish’ calendar to engineer their menu according to the season fish catch. They have become an eco-conscious restaurant along with keeping their customers happy. ‘The Marina’ in Chennai aims and offers sustainable seafood. Urban Farming

The vegetable, fruits, cereals and pulses that we eat in our day-to-day life is grown far from the cities. This has led to the loss in the correction of the people with the food that they eat resulting in a large amount of waste. To minimize this connection gap, Urban Farming is seen as the way out. It is a vertical greenhouse in which the food is grown & distributed within the urbanized city or heavily populated town or a municipality in a sustainable manner.

- ‘Lufa Farms’, the world’s first commercial rooftop hydroponic greenhouse food company. Within a year, the produce from a 0.75-acre area fed 2000 local inhabitants.

- ‘Ultima’, a restaurant launched in May 2018 by Finnish Chef and broadcaster Henri Alen uses a hydroponic and aeroponic cultivation system, insect farming using food preparation waste, mushroom growing on coffee grains, algae growing and other innovative food production methods. The motto of the restaurant is ‘Hyperlocal and high-tech.’

- ‘Casa Elena’, a restaurant in Toledo has its garden to produce seasonal and organic foods & recycle 85% of its waste. They also educate their employees about sustainability and energy consumption.


Waste to resource

Although several measures are taken, there is some unavoidable waste like peels, plate leftovers, etc. that does get generated in a restaurant. With composting seen as the only way to utilize the organic waste, but the restaurant food posing certain challenges like being indigestive due to use of a high amount of oil, spices and presence of grease, they tend to end up being in a landfill.


Mr Amey Marathe, founder of ‘Jsamey Biotech Pvt. Ltd.’ saw an opportunity and took an innovative way to solve this issue. He used Bio – methanation as a solution to convert the food waste into manure and biogas in a profitable manner. The plant located in Hyderabad has a processing capacity of up to 25 kilos waste per day.

‘Agriprotein’, a South African company employs Black Soldier Fly which has a nutrient recycling ability to feed on the discarded organic waste. After this, the larvae are dried and converted into highly nutritious feed for the use in aquaculture or animal husbandry and even use as compost in the farmlands.


Zero waste restaurants

Apart from food waste, the restaurant also produces other types of waste like tissue papers, broken crockeries & single-use packaging & products. These also contribute to the volumes of waste that goes to the landfill. According to Danish Chef Matt Orlando, European restaurants alone produce an average of 70,000 kg of waste per year.


‘Nolla’ (means ‘zero’ in Finnic language), a restaurant opened by three chef friends challenged this notion and took it beyond food waste. They selectively choose the interiors, crockery, glassware and napkins that were made using recyclable and reusable materials. They used composting to utilize their food waste & Havikkimestari app, technology to monitor, collect and analyze the data in their kitchen for better food procurement decisions. They saw that within 2 weeks of the opening, they could reduce the waste generated by 80%.


Large scale implementation

With all these initiates taking place at small scale, large scale implementation is seen as likely impossible.

‘IKEA’s restaurants’ that feed about 660 million people each year have come up with innovative ways to include circularity in their food business like smart ingredient choices or replacing traditional classics with alternative versions. The idea is to take the health of customers and the food production within planetary boundaries hand in hand. It also has waste monitoring and analytics software – ‘’Winnow’ in 35% of IKEA’s kitchens resulting in 1 million meals saved in a few months.


Chef-philosopher Dan Barber, Chef at ‘Blue Hill’ at Stone Barns in Massachusetts sees restaurants as a key player in restoring the health of the soil and in turn getting an amazing flavour into the food thus produced. Barber says - “To support the continual improvement of the whole system is the goal, and this leads to better flavour.” Some suggested ways include the introduction of animals, crop rotation and regenerative farming methods.


Conclusion

The fact of ‘being sustainable isn’t just about doing the right thing for the environment. It can also be a way to grow brand affinity with your customers or even save money’ holds for the restaurants. Being circular not only helps reduce their environmental footprint but also helps them reduce the amount of waste that either had to be processed by them or see that it’s taken to be processed or disposed of safely. Thus, providing an environmental, social as well as economic benefits.


“Waste is just a resource in Wrong hands”


About the Author

Saravanakumaran Deivanayagi is an undergraduate student doing MBA(Tech.) in Chemical Engineering with a passion to work for Sustainability and Circular Economy. His mission is to educate people about Sustainability, Climate Change, Circular Economy & Water Accountability. Saravanakumaran wishes to make each household in India water sufficient, sustainable and zero-waster.


References:

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