In terms of environmental sustainability in the travel and tourism sector, initiatives are created and operations are modified to address the major impact of climate change and how companies can reduce their carbon footprint. The same level of attention is not given to the increasingly pressing issue of food wastage, which increases operating expenses for the likes of hotels and weakens green credentials.

An increasingly pressing issue

More than 900 million tons (Mt) of food is thrown away every year, according to a global report. In March 2021, The UN Environment Program’s (UNEP) Food Waste Index revealed that 17% of the food available to consumers, for example in shops, households and restaurants, goes directly into the bin. This realisation of the amount of food wastage currently occurring is also being felt by consumers. Most of the global population has had to cook more at home because of the pandemic, which has made them more aware of their own personal food wastage.

According to GlobalData’s week 11 Covid-19 recovery survey (fieldwork was undertaken on 2 to 6 December), 51% of global respondents stated that reducing or recycling food waste is ‘slightly’ ‘significantly’ or now ‘top’ priority because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This increase in awareness around food wastage from the consumer side will increase pressure on companies operating in the travel and tourism sector to place greater importance on this unsustainable by-product of travel and tourism.

Food wastage targets in lodging could be improved

Initiatives have been already put in place by many tourism companies to address the issue of food wastage. However, this may not be enough. When looking at the lodging industry specifically, an industry that has been accused of heavily contributing to food waste, Hilton has pledged to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. Additionally, Marriott is aiming to reduce food waste by 50% at its properties by 2025.

With Covid-19 shattering occupancy rates for many major players in the lodging industry, these targets should be exceeded and potentially brought forward, especially with buffets potentially being made redundant due to the pandemic. Large-scale buffets are one of the key contributors to food wastage in hotels and stopping them should go a long way to completely eradicating food waste. However, with industries becoming more fragmented, new challenges around food wastage are created. For example, the emergence of the sharing economy in the lodging industry has created more responsibility on the shoulders of guests when it comes to food wastage. Wastage in private accommodation cannot be regulated as thoroughly as it could be in hotels, as it would negatively impact the guest experience.

Food wastage is likely to grow in importance due to the pandemic and because of the increasing need for sustainability in general. As well as decreasing food wastage to combat growing pressure from consumers and governments, it will help to reduce operating expenses for the likes of hotels, as less food will be bought in as a result of paying greater attention to this impact, which will also help to speed up recovery post-pandemic.