Hotels, cafes and schools in 40 nations have used the AI-based system to cut emissions.
Food waste has been an overlooked factor when considering the carbon emissions associated with holiday travel, as most conversations have centered on air miles and the individual footprint from flying. Yet new research from scientists at Lund University in Sweden and University of Queensland in Australia suggests there’s a significant impact from the meals we enjoy when traveling.
“Our ‘foodprint’ is one of the more hidden costs of our holidays, calculated by the carbon produced by agriculture, packaging, transport, food miles and wastage,” said Responsible Travel, the sustainable tourism company based in the United Kingdom that commissioned the carbon-footprint assessment.
“All-inclusive package holidays, the type that offer all-you-can-eat buffets, can have high carbon emissions, largely due to the huge amounts of food that goes to waste,” the company added.
CEO Justin Francis said Responsible Travel has argued the need to stay longer and fly less since 2009, but the hospitality industry and its consumers need to step up on food and food waste. Travelers also are urged to choose smaller accommodations, especially if powered by renewable energy.
Those choices may result in up to four times fewer emissions than four-star hotel chains, but intentional ecotourism and simplicity aren’t for everyone – even when they are available. One way that larger hotel chains and other food-service operations are reducing food waste is by using a solution developed by Winnow, also based in the UK.
The Winnow system relies on artificial intelligence to measure and calculate food thrown away in commercial kitchens. When staff scrapes waste into the Winnow bin, a camera captures an image and accurately recognizes the product. It weighs items, sorts the total, and generates a report on cost and carbon emissions, giving hospitality managers the visibility to understand what leads to food waste and the ability to eliminate it.
The system follows the “what gets measured gets managed” logic. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Winnow installation in 19 AccorHotels properties has reduced such waste by 69 percent since 2016, advancing a global operations goal of 30 percent reduction in food waste by 2020.
The Armani Hotel Dubai is now saving more than 117,000 meals each year in food waste, while Fairmont the Palm cut waste by 61 percent at its buffet-style restaurant. Club Med Bali and Marriott’s Renaissance Phuket Resort each cut their food waste in half in about six months.
In a far more casual setting, Winnow has worked so well in IKEA cafes – from the UK to Belgium, and Hungary to Norway – that IKEA itself invested in the startup’s second funding round last year. IKEA also has a 2020 target for reducing its food waste, in this case by 50 percent.
So there are options for mindful tourists seeking lower-footprint travel options when it comes to food. Winnow also is introducing its systems at universities and large-scale industrial cafeterias, and says it has saved US$30 million in total food so far but wants to reach $1 billion annually in the next few years.
And if it’s important to consider waste when on holiday, it’s always as important at home where the underlying philosophy stays the same: the food waste that gets measured is the food waste that gets managed.