29 November, 2017

Here’s how Helka is reducing down food waste

Every year, 1,3 billion tons of food, a third of produced food worldwide according to the UN, goes to waste. It’s not a case of used coffee grinds or banana peels either, the number refers to edible food. Here in Finland, the number is 400 million kilograms per year. We at Helka accumulate organic waste at the rate of eight kilograms per day, which makes almost 3000 kilograms a year. It’s far too much.

The food waste problem is not a new one, and different organizations are constantly making goals and guidelines regarding it. Finland has pledged to accomplish the UN’s sustainable development goals, which means we should half our food waste by 2030. It is important that we uphold discussion about the matter, so that the vast damages caused by excess emissions become widely known.

There’s still time to reach the goals set by the UN, but we at Helka are ready to face up to the challenge right now. We’ve taken huge strides toward smaller amounts of food waste over the last year. As we can’t really influence how much customers decide to leave on their breakfast plates, we have focused our efforts on minimizing waste in the kitchen and while serving.

5 methods we have used to make a difference

      1. Order optimization

We monitor our ingredient inventory constantly. The number of customers attending our breakfast servings is usually approximately the same, but we must react to changes immediately. If there are less people than we expected, the next order is decreased. Continuous, fixed order amounts would be convenient, but they don’t work. So, our chef JP spends some time every day checking our food inventory.

      2. Careful planning of dishes

If we buy something, it must be top quality. Our breakfast consists of organic and local produce. We obviously don’t want to throw these valuable ingredients in the trash, so we plan our dishes carefully. Considering preservability is one of the easiest ways to prevent waste, we choose products that stay fresh for longer. For example, lactose-free milk with a little fat stays fresh for longer than milk with lactose and no fat. Using every bit of an ingredient is another way to prevent waste. There were times in Helka when only the center of a potato was used, and the rest was thrown to trash. That doesn’t happen anymore.

      3. Exact servings

Our breakfast supervisors Katja and Sheida determine the manner of serving based on the expected number of customers coming for breakfast. If there are few customers and the breakfast serving is closing, we change to smaller serving dishes. That way we can prevent the food from staying on the table for no reason. Serving also includes the utensils and dishes. We’ve cut down food waste by a large margin by changing our porridge plates to smaller ones. We also switched our utensils to smaller ones, and got new food warmers that keep our food fresh for longer. We also changed the display of our foods. Bacon is now served in halves, and some fruits are served whole. This way customers won’t take that much extra, and the food stays better for longer.

      4. Making use of surplus

Despite all our efforts, some of the served food is left uneaten. It is the duty of our breakfast supervisors to determine what can still be used and what can’t. A little ingenuity goes a long way to prevent a large amount of waste. The untouched surplus of breakfast can be used in many ways: bread can be made in to croutons, yoghurt can be made in to smoothies and eggs can be used to make the traditional Finnish egg and butter spread. 

There has also been some national discussion about the usage of surplus. Last year over 100 Finnish members of parliament signed an initiative of legislation that proposes that stores, bakeries and other similar companies would be under the influence of distribution liability. This would mean that all edible surplus would be donated to charity. We are strongly in favor of this initiative, but currently the amount of our edible food surplus is so small that moving it wouldn’t be cost-effective. We think this is a positive problem, but we also pledge to take part if there is a reasonable way to utilize our surplus in the future.

      5. Educating and including

We’ve been touring around Finland and the rest of the world to see the inventions other hotels have come up with in their breakfast servings. We have also integrated the best ideas to our own servings. Our attitude here at Helka is also key. Responsibility is starting to become a natural part of us all. Cutting down waste is not just about our money, brand or Green Key membership, but about a genuine desire to make things better. We all feel bad about walking towards the trash bins with a bio trash bag. In this spirit, our chef JP has promised that no one will ever catch him leaving food on his breakfast plate. We’ve been waiting for a blunder, but no matter how much we spy on him, it hasn’t happened yet.

There are still improvements to be made

Despite our great efforts thus far, the battle against food waste has not yet ended. These days we measure food waste twice a year. In the future, we will do it more often and we will focus on the main reasons why food goes to waste. Although we can’t decide how much food goes on a customer’s plate, we can always encourage people to think while picking our delicacies. The phrase “take what you want, but eat what you take” is decades old, and it’s still relevant. Besides, you can always go for seconds 😉

Team Helka