12 Oct, 2018

Palmwoods café leads the way in hospitality waste reduction


A Sunshine Coast café has embarked on its own war on waste, cutting the amount of waste it sends to landfill to just one cupful per day.

The Homegrown café in Palmwoods is known for its wholesome homemade fare, laid-back vibe and peaceful garden setting. Owners Sarah and Gary Wright opened the café six years ago, committed to embodying the “homegrown” ethos, with an underlying principle of sustainability which has evolved over time.

“We chose the name because we wanted it to be about local and sustainable, to use produce sourced from the local food cycle, grow as much as we could ourselves and keep waste to a minimum,” explains Sarah.

“From the beginning, a 50-cent discount for bringing your own cup was on the menu. We wanted to be part of the responsible café movement and demonstrate a sense of responsibility to our customers and the planet.”

Attending a Food and Agribusiness Network talk by RMIT hospitality waste researcher, Dianne McGrath a couple of years ago was an eye-opener for Sarah, who was appalled at the findings of Dianne’s research about the volume of waste generated by the hospitality industry.

RMIT’s Watch My Waste project found that Australian food services businesses including restaurants and cafés produced more than 250,000 tonnes of food waste that goes to landfill annually. That translates to 160 grams of food per person served.

ABC TV’s War on Waste recently highlighted this issue and Dianne’s research showing that hospitality food waste was largely avoidable with:

  • 58% of waste consisting of uneaten food left by diners
  • 40% of waste generated in hospitality kitchens; and
  • 2% of waste the result of food spoilage.

While the statistics are staggering, it’s evident that changing habits could go a long way towards reducing the amount of hospitality waste going to landfill.

The Homegrown team has taken a whole of process approach to reducing waste - including food procurement, menu development, waste separation, composting, recycling, training staff and educating customers. This has enabled the implementation of more waste-conscious systems throughout the business, making it easier to manage waste effectively and efficiently.

Working with suppliers

Sarah favours local businesses that can supply goods with zero or minimal packaging. For example, Queen Street Meats in Nambour allows Sarah to take her own containers when collecting meat orders so single-used packaging is avoided. Vegetables and salad greens not grown in the Homegrown garden are delivered in a large box, with no plastic packaging.

“Some suppliers are more eager to get on board than others but what is important is having those conversations to make them aware that there are café and restaurant owners in the industry who want to do the right thing. This helps suppliers consider their own practices and how they might improve their business model too,” Sarah says.

Effective, flexible menu planning has been a big factor in waste reduction for Homegrown, with the menu changing monthly to accommodate seasonal fluctuations in the availability of local produce. The menu is also altered when there is extra stock of a certain ingredient or extra portions of a dish.

Specials are offered when required to ensure food is utilised while fresh. Portion sizes are reasonable but not excessive so there is very little food left by diners.

The Homegrown approach to managing waste

The Homegrown approach to managing waste was to first understand the business systems that generated waste and then consider how they could be improved. Unnecessary single-use items such as plastic straws and plastic wrap are avoided. In-house drinks are served with reusable stainless steel straws instead.

It was acknowledged that not everyone remembers to bring their own coffee cup for takeaway coffees so Sarah researched compostable takeaway cups and found the Biopak brand breaks down in the on-site compost system in just two months.

While many commercial food outlets have a single plastic-lined rubbish bin for combined waste, Sarah and the Homegrown team identified that separating waste at the point where it is generated was the key to an effective waste solution. This means positioning designated bins in different locations and channelling rubbish in the right direction from that point.

The Homegrown bin system consists of:

  • In the kitchen

    • Chook bin (these scraps go to chickens owned by a staff member)
    • Compost bin
    • Recycling bin
    • Small landfill bin that is mainly used for foil products
    • Soft plastics are collected and recycled through the supermarket REDcycle program
  • At the barista station

    • Compost bin for coffee grounds and any paper or small cardboard
    • Milk containers go into the main recycling bin
  • Food left by customers goes to the lucky chooks

Making a start

Sarah has been sharing her model with other cafés and restaurants in Palmwoods and encourages all venues in the hospitality industry to review their waste practices and identify potential areas of improvement.

“Many café and restaurant owners are reluctant to change due to the perception it is too hard.I know many don’t even recycle milk bottles and that is disappointing. It’s really not hard. Once a system is in place, it is quite easy and doesn’t cost more or take any more time.”

Sarah’s top three tips for reducing waste in restaurants and cafés

  1. Implement a system to separate waste where it is generated, particularly in the kitchen and coffee service areas.
  2. If offering a takeaway coffee service, offer a discount for people who bring their own cups, discourage anyone dining in from using single use cups and encourage people to refuse plastic lids where practical. Investigate options for compostable cups such as those by Biopak.
  3. Eliminate single-use plastic straws. Educate customers to bring their own straws or use reusable stainless steel straws for in-house drinks and paper straws for takeaways when straws are required.

“It’s about making a start,” said Sarah. “Find one thing, make that change and then move onto the next. If each business makes a commitment to change on a small scale, others see what is possible and get on board too. The collective impact could bring about real change in the industry.”

Do you know a local business or individual taking up the challenge to reduce waste? Please provide the details below so we can celebrate our local waste warriors.

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