On the food business and waste: Marriott International speaks to industry experts like Rishi Naleendra, Lindsey Jang, and more
A little goes a long way
The time for lip-service sustainability is no more. When the pandemic forced us into a two-month long circuit breaker earlier this year, a study by National University of Singapore found that our country used an additional 1334 tonnes of plastic waste that accumulated from the heightened takeaway and delivery habits. And in a time where sustainability in the food industry was just beginning to propel forward, here's the million-dollar question: Will the pandemic set us back in this move towards environmental consciousness?
Adequately summarised by Tom Egerton, Spirits Evangelist from Proof & Company: "We have taken a backwards step for single-use items in restaurants, hotels and bars, which is indicative of an understandable and wider trend where immediate personal and family unit health is prioritized over the more nebulous and undefined future threat of climate change."
But not all is lost if more industry leaders take progressive steps in the right direction, just like Marriott International has with Three Blue Ducks in W Brisbane, which now stands at the forefront of reducing food wastage by saving all their green waste from the kitchen, and bringing buckets of them back to the farm as compost to feed crops. And just recently, they brought together some of the most influential names in the industry – including Lindsay Jang, co-founder of award-winning RONIN, chef Michael Hogan, the executive chef of Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen's Park, as well as chef Rishi Naleendra, owner of 1-Michelin Cheek Bistro, Cloudstreet, and Kotuwa — for a roundtable discussion titled "The Race To Stop Waste". In attempt for a closer inspection at the pandemic's impact on the hospitality and F&B industry and what it meant for sustainability moving forward. Below, we bring to you key pointers that both the industry at large, and consumers like us, should consider moving forward, as we slowly veer out of our cushy habits.
Reducing food waste
In the kitchen, it's best to look at what we already have. From local, artisanal produce to ensuring that no part of an ingredient is wasted, all these small steps will go a long way into ensuring minimal food wastage that begins even before it reaches the diner's plate.
On the industry level, so much more can be done to enable this. If anything, the pandemic propels the industry to move away from mindless and wasteful open buffet services, and move towards special menus or pop-up styles that also spice up the dining experience, rather than depend on the abundance of food as a draw.
Opting for biodegradable and eco-friendly containers for takeaways
This is something many of us already know of. But the experts would also like to caution against simply going with the buzzwords like "responsibly produced packaging" that doesn't really explain much on how exactly it's responsibly produced.
Of course, guest and consumer involvement is also vital here. With big chain corporations like Starbucks introducing reusable cups or straws to create a full circle system, less single-use plastics or containers will be wasted. But since the pandemic might have put a temporary stop on certain reusable practices due to concerns of hygiene and personal health, making sure packaging is eco-friendly is something we must insist on.
Starting a business with sustainability as a key pillar from day zero (as it's never too late!)
It's simple. Building a business with sustainability as one of your main goals will ultimately be far easier than attempting to incorporate them into an already existing business model. But to do this, you should hire an expert. Engage the right people like an environmental consultant or sustainability manager who will know best how to integrate the philosophy into your company's goals.
Don't be afraid of embracing technology when it comes to streamlining your business processes to reduce your carbon footprint. It's in the little things and a clear example was birthed from the pandemic season itself: the use of QR code menus that picked up momentum with an increased need for less surface contact.
Connection and cooperation with other business leaders and industry influencers
With the pandemic forcing many restaurants and bars to rethink their business plans in order to stay afloat, creativity is essential. To reduce overhead costs, the idea of co-working spaces can be reinterpreted, even for the kitchen. Businesses like cocktail bar Jekyll & Hyde in Singapore have successfully reopened after finding themselves a new roof over their heads on the second floor of Cheeky. This not only allows a reduction in costs, but a possible reduction in overall carbon footprint.
A shift in consumer mindset and culture
The consumer holds more power than you think. After all, regular consumers like you and me are what determines the demands and needs of the industry. The more we demand for more responsible, more ethical and more sustainable practices from our dining and takeout experiences, the more these food businesses will be inspired to make the change. As a regular customer in Singapore, you have the responsibility to ask more mindful questions such as questioning the continued use of single-use utensils or plastics, or making the conscious effort to only take what you need when you're getting takeout.
With the increasingly worrying climate change that impedes our global environment everyday, it is indeed a race against time. COVID-19, if anything, only highlights how important it is that we make sure sustainability, isn't just a buzzword. It takes all of us — from industry leaders to regular consumers like us — to innovate sustainably and progress forward. Even a minor change in your routine like using a reusable straw over a plastic one, will make a difference. Just remember: your one small action stands to have a big impact for the world.