Leftovers to compost: Hotels eliminate waste

Two-thirds of harvested food ends up being thrown away in the developed world. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: At the end of a Lebanese dinner, and especially if you’re eating out, there is often enough food left on the table to feed a few more mouths.

On the occasion of World Food Day Tuesday, newly launched local nongovernmental organization FERN hosted a brunch at Le Gabriel Hotel in Beirut, where attendees were invited to dine on the leftovers from the breakfast buffet.

FERN helps restaurants and hotels become “zero waste,” whether by redistributing edible food to those in need, or by composting organic waste into fertilizer, thereby “closing the loop in the agricultural cycle.”

The initiative trains hospitality staff in how to separate organic waste – like food and napkins – from non-organic waste, and provides them with recycling bins.

Then, twice a day, FERN will collect this organic waste from the venue, and deliver it to Cedar Environmental, a company which composts and turns it into fertilizer.

Anything else that can be recycled will be taken to FERN’s warehouse, where it will be sorted and then distributed, but Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli, president of FERN says that on average 75 percent of restaurant waste is indeed organic.

The organization ran a pilot program last summer but will officially launch operations next month, and has already been working with Tawlet and Casablanca restaurants, among others, as well as Le Gabriel Hotel – which already donates quality leftovers to a nearby schools for orphans.

In the developing world, two-thirds of harvested food ends up being thrown away, according to a report published last year by the McKinsey Group. At the same time, 870 million people across the world, representing 12.5 percent of the global population, were chronically undernourished between 2010 and 2012, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Association’s latest report.

Also, in the second half of 2010 alone, 44 million people were forced in to poverty due to rising food prices, figures from the World Bank show.

Naji Boustany, who co-founded FERN with Danberg-Ficarelli, says that while at first it was hard to explain to some restaurateurs how the waste sorting process works, “everyone was soon happy to do it, and had the system up and running within 24 hours.”

The dire state of the environment in Lebanon is leading to a growing awareness of such issues, Boustany adds, and as such, “People want to be part of this change now.”

As recycling capabilities in Lebanon are severely lacking, there is a role for other organizations to play in this regard, Danberg-Ficarelli adds.

Existing scrapyards, where workers sort waste and sell it elsewhere, already occupy a major role in the recycling chain, and FERN is planning to work with such sites.

Eventually, FERN hopes to work on increasing awareness of recycling and composting among the general public, so introducing it to the hospitality sector is a good start, she says.

“This doesn’t require any work on the part of the population, but if restaurants start publishing statistics on how much waste they are recycling, people will become more aware.”

“Getting people to throw away less is great, but for now, composting is an important step.”

The U.K. Embassy in Lebanon has provided a grant to the fledgling organization and will help in organizing future events and in linking hospitality venues with organizations providing food to those in need.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 17, 2012, on page 2.




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