Food From the Garbage Bin: Research to Limit Waste

Thursday 11 April 2019

Going through other people’s garbage with your hands. Not the kind of behaviour you would expect from a lector. Still, Elena Cavagnaro loves to get her hands dirty in researching to mitigate the waste of food in the hospitality sector. With her lectorate, Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, she gets her teeth into more sustainability in the hospitality branch and tourism.

The suitcases have been packed, the goldfish have been delivered to the neighbours and the navigation is set: you are almost ready for your lovely weekend away. Just a few quick groceries. Croissants for breakfast, fresh orange juice for lunch and a well-deserved drink for the evening. Without noticing, more groceries end up in the shopping cart than during your usual round of shopping. ,,Such a waste”, says Cavagnaro, ,,because many products end up in the garbage bin of your holiday home after a weekend away. While they are still perfectly consumable. Time for action.”

In the hospitality sector, the fight against waste of food is high on the agenda. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Landal GreenParks even invited the lectorate to jointly research what guests throw in the garbage. ,,The conclusion was that a great number of opened and unopened packs of cheese and other kinds of sandwich filling are thrown out”, the lector tells us. ,,Bread and uncooked vegetables are also found in the garbage a lot. Products that may still be used perfectly at home, to be short. The problem is in the people’s mind-set. They would rather throw it out than make the effort to bring it back home.”

With this, Cavagnaro identifies the root of the matter: our mind-set. ,,Saving things takes a little effort”, she nods. ,,Usually, comfort prevails.” In order to enhance the comfort, the researchers, in consultation with Landal GreenParks, put a cooling bag in the holiday homes, which guests could use to take their leftovers home. ,,That worked rather well ", Cavagnaro concludes. ,,Such a to-good-to-leave-bag provides a positive spin to saving."

Besides comfort, people’s surroundings also dictate how we behave, knows the lector. ,,Take a look at the signs that are often put up on hotel rooms, requesting you to reuse your towel in order to save the environment. Very few guests do that”, Cavagnaro knows. ,,Until the sign says: ‘75% of the people that have stayed in this room, reused their towel’. Then, all of a sudden, new guests also start doing so. We are, after all, herd animals and want to identify with the group. Really, that is how sheepish we are.’’

With this, the key to success seems to be found: offering comfort and providing the right example. ,,I am positive”, nods Cavagnaro. ,,I notice that more and more restaurants, hotels and holiday parks battle food waste. Not only to save costs, but also because they notice that throwing it out is a waste. By now, everyone is pretty fed up with squandering. That especially gives me hope’’

Elena Cavagnaro is lector Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences. She recently released the book Sustainable Value Creation in Hospitality. Guests on Earth.