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Leon Kaye headshot

NGOs, Hospitality Industry Join Forces to Curb Food Waste

By Leon Kaye

By most accounts, anywhere from a third to 40 percent of all food in the U.S. is wasted. Date labeling, gaps in the supply chain and the lack of consumer education are amongst the reasons why so much food is lost before it can end up on a plate. But the hospitality industry, especially those notoriously wasteful hotel buffets and catered events, also contribute to these staggering totals.

Now, the American hotel industry is partnering with non-governmental organizations to cut those volumes down to size. Today, the WWF said it will work with the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) to launch pilot projects that root out and eliminate food waste.

Participating hotel companies include industry leaders like Hilton, Hyatt, the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Marriott, in addition to Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, Sage Hospitality, and Terranea Resort.

This is not just about finding a local compost company to haul away unwanted food, said Pete Pearson, director of the food waste division at WWF. Participants plan to tackle waste at all levels, down to one-off events or conferences. Any solution that focuses on prevention, not recycling, is also on the table. “We don’t grow food in order to compost it,” Pearson told TriplePundit on Monday.

Pearson admits that many challenges await the hotel industry as it tries to communicate to customers how they can do their part to reduce food waste. After all, most of us behave quite differently when we travel on vacation or for a business trip compared to how we usually conduct ourselves in the home and office. What we are often conscious about on our own turf often falls to the wayside when we are far from home.

Nevertheless, Pearson acknowledges that consumers -- or, in this case, hotel and resort guests -- must be part of the conversation. “At some point you have to involve your customers on this journey,” he told us. “If we want them to be part of the solution, we have to let them be part of the conversation.”

WWF’s conversation with these hotel companies started two years ago when the NGO signed a partnership with Hilton. That agreement spawned various projects, including a water conservation strategy, a plan to increase the chain’s purchase of sustainable seafood, and a roadmap to reduce food waste within Hilton’s supply chain and operations.

Meanwhile, the Rockefeller Foundation's $130 million YieldWise program seeks to halve global food waste by 2023 in order to strengthen food security in the nations that are at most risk.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group representing the hospitality sector, has its own committee that addressed food waste, Pearson said, adding that they needed to take those efforts up to the next level.

The partner organizations plan to have an “industry tool set” by the end of this year, Pearson said, along with an active or planed awareness campaign for customers. And if these frameworks can be adopted or modified by other sectors, then this initiative can count on becoming more of a success. “Once you have someone, as in Hilton, putting themselves out there, that brings in more people, more companies, and creates more traction,” Pearson said.

Image credit: Hilton

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye