Event Greening Forum explores ways to fight food waste in the events industry

Event Africa Contributor 09/03/2020 Case Studies

It is estimated that one third of all food produced globally is wasted¹. This applies to South Africa, and means that of the 31 million tonnes of food we produce annually, approximately 10 million tonnes go to waste². 

This is clearly a problem, but let’s explore why. 

It’s a problem because an estimated 13 million South Africans experience hunger every day², while Jean Ziegler, the United Nations special rapporteur, calculated that in 2006 more than 36 million people died from hunger and illness linked to malnutrition³. Meanwhile, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050⁴ and we need to be able to feed everyone. Better food re-distribution could go a long way to making this achievable.

It’s a problem because agriculture is the single biggest consumer of fresh water, using 70% (or more) of all freshwater withdrawals from rivers, lakes and aquifers⁵. This means that wasted food is also wasted water. South Africa is a water scarce country, and this kind of loss can have very real implications for our society, which Cape Town’s Day Zero scare only hinted at.

It all starts in the kitchen

A lot can be done to minimize food waste in the kitchen, starting with the menu design. Carl van Rooyen, the Executive Chef at the Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town, says, “Having several buffets with different menus leads to an incredible amount of waste. If there are several smaller functions/conferences running on the same day, we encourage the organizers to agree to the same menu and share the buffet set up.”

He adds, “We compose menus that cater for most tastes without having an excess of variety. Too much variety means that more food has to be prepared.” In this respect, a ‘harvest table’ or ‘antipasto’ buffet works well, he says. “This can accommodate the increasing number of dietary restrictions that guests may have, by keeping the veggies, pulses and grains (plus cheeses) separate from the other proteins like pickled, cured and cold meats.”

“In future, live cooking stations will allow us to custom-cook to guests’ needs and only as much is as needed. It does tick a lot of the boxes,” adds van Rooyen.

She adds that monitoring food portion sizes when being served is also a necessary skill “to ensure food doesn’t return from tables destined for the bin”.

Starter: Carrot and Ginger Soup with Toasted Bruschetta; or Carrot Mousse with smoked chicken bomb and Basil

Main Course: Grilled Duck Breast with Artichoke & Carrot Puree, Sautéed Baby Carrots, Jus and Broccoli Florets; or Spiral Carrot Tart with Parsnip & Aubergine, Marinated Rocket and Feta Cheese

Dessert: Carrot Cake with Carrot Sorbet; or Carrot Soufflé with Caramel Toffee

Overcoming over catering

Another difficulty that leads to a lot of food waste in the event and hospitality industry is over catering.

“The challenge is forecasting what delegates are going to consume – you don’t want to run out of anything but you don’t want to have too much left over,” says van Rooyen. “Knowing how much of each foodstuff/ ingredient should be ordered per person attending a function and making sure that only that amount is issued to the banqueting kitchen is a real skill.”

But many organisers are stepping up to prevent over catering. Katja Schmidt, the Managing Director of Potters Hand Activations, says, “Venues normally over cater for corporate events, which is evident in the food left behind at the buffet station once the function is over. The second factor to bear in mind is the dropout rates for delegates at most non-paying events. In order to minimise food waste, we confirm final numbers attending the event at 20% less than the actual number of guests expected to arrive. There is usually enough food available for the additional guests should they arrive.”

Lynn McLeod, the EGF Secretariat, manages all of the organisations various events. She agrees, and says that she will reduce the number of confirmed guests by 40% for all free events. “For paid for events there will still be no-shows, and I work with a dropout rate of about 20%,” she adds.

And when the party’s over…

Not all uneaten food at an event has to be wasted. If it hasn’t been served, it can be reused. For this reason, another tip that Hutchings gives is to use smaller plates for buffets. Otherwise people tend to overfill their plates, and this uneaten food is no longer fit for human consumption.

Harris suggests re-purposing excess unserved food; left over roasted peppers can be turned into a hummus, bones can be made into stock for freezer friendly soups, and vegetable off-cuts can be offered as tasty complementary bites upon arrival.

Many venues and organisers have a policy of giving this food to their staff, which is a great solution. But it can also be donated to shelters and other charitable institutions. For example, SA Harvest will collect and redistribute quality surplus food to hungry South Africans through feeding schemes, homeless shelters, schools and more.

Closing the loop, creating more food

For food that is not fit for human consumption, there are many options to explore. Sending it to landfill (rubbish dumps) should not be one of them. When organic waste is sent to landfill it releases methane, a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 21 higher than carbon dioxide, and leachate, a toxic liquid which poses the risk of contaminating our underground water supplies. 

Some venue opt to send food waste to pig farms. (Interestingly, food is still considered lost or waste when fed to farm animals, because of the resource inefficiency of producing meat this way.) However, there are some risks in dealing with food waste this way, says Gavin Heron, the Director of Earth Probiotic. The biggest is that you could feed pork to pigs (especially when dealing with scrapings from plates), which is against all food safety policies (remember Mad Cow Disease?). Another significant risk of feeding pigs untreated swill is you could potentially cause an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF).

As a result, the Animal Diseases Act 35 of 1984 outlines the following: “No feeding of swill is preferable, but in cases where swill feeding is practised, any item that originates or was in contact with animals (including any kitchen refuse of animal or vegetable origin originating from any dwelling, hotel, motel, restaurant, eating-house, airport, harbour or any place where food is being prepared for human use) has to be cooked (boiled) for at least 60 minutes or sterilised before it may be fed to pigs.”

for more information visit http://www.eventgreening.co.za


1. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN: http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/

2. WWF’s report ‘The truth about our food waste problem’: https://www.wwf.org.za/?21962/The-truth-about-our-food-waste-problem

3. The World Counts – Wasted food statistics: https://www.theworldcounts.com/counters/global_hunger_statistics/wasted_food_statistics

4. United Nations: https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html

5 UNESCO: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/water/wwap/facts-and-figures/all-facts-wwdr3/fact2-agricultural-use/

6. Global Reporting: https://globalreportingprogram.org/fishmeal/

7. NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/13/515057834/90-percent-of-fish-we-use-for-fishmeal-could-be-used-to-feed-humans-instead

8. Student Energy: https://www.studentenergy.org/topics/biodigestion