The lavish iftars and suhoors that make the GCC one of the most iconic places to mark the Holy Month actually drive a significant spike in food and associated waste. The UAE does many things in style, but when it comes to food and beverage, it is truly a world leader. However, being home to the world’s highest number of restaurants per capita is a double-edged sword.

Food waste continues to hinder the UAE’s efforts to become one of the most sustainable countries in the world and, although Ramadan is a time for reflection, fasting and giving, concerns about food waste always surface during the holy month.

In Dubai, the average amount of food sent to landfill during Ramadan almost doubles from 2.7kg per resident per day, to 4.5kg — across the UAE, 38% of all food prepared is wasted, increasing to 60% during Ramadan.

By contrast, in Europe and the US, per capita food waste works out at less than 1kg per person, per day and furthermore, waste in US fast food restaurants is just over 9% and in full service restaurants it’s still only a little over 11%.

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So, where are we going wrong? To be fair we are not comparing apples with apples, if you’ll pardon the pun. The percentage of open buffets throughout the region is far greater that in Europe and the US — and as any F&B manager will tell you, it would be embarrassing for a hotel in the region to run short of food, particularly during iftar.

That takes on far more relevance, when studies have shown that ordinarily buffet diners only eat half of the food displayed and only 15% of food is reused, the rest is simply discarded.

What is the government doing? Well, under the National Agenda 2021, the UAE’s federal government aims to reduce the volume of waste per capital to 900 grams a day, with further targets reducing waste to landfill by 75% by 2021. The ultimate goal is to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2030, which seems a daunting task, considering our current position.

The UAE is also fighting back through initiatives such as the UAE Food Bank, announced in 2017, the social campaign #FoodNotTrash and the District Waste drive launched by Dubai Carbon, to name but a few.

If we look at reduction, there are a number of ways to manage food waste on a buffet. Simple efforts such as cereal dispensers, individual servings, sample platters, miniature pastries and cakes, can all help to reduce waste, in some cases by up to 10%.

Some hotels have gone one stage further, organising green teams which have been tasked with identifying what kitchen waste can be reused and recycled, measuring and benchmarking its waste performance and establishing clear goals and objectives.

Although both are practical measures, it is technological innovation that will ultimately provide the means by which to make a significant and enduring difference.

Last year a Dubai Municipality collaboration saw smart metres placed under bins to help chefs quantify the volume of food leaving their kitchen as waste. In a pilot scheme, the smart metres reduced food waste in hotels by a remarkable 50–70%, yes seven-zero!

A suite of other tools also exist, such as smart fridges, which through the Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity can do everything from responsive temperature regulation to smart ordering — to prolonging the shelf life of fresh produce by coating it in an electrically charged preservative.

The internet-based Hotel Optimizer benchmarking tool created by Farnek, provides food waste data entry capability to help the hospitality sector become more mindful of the food it discards by supporting analysis of waste management and recycling operations. In addition, we have worked to install zero food waste recycling machines in such high-profile properties as Armani Hotel Dubai.

It’s hard to deny that challenges lie ahead, but implementing waste reduction technology, should be more than just food for thought.

About the Author: Markus Oberlin is the CEO of Farnek. Contact