Food waste under-reported in tourism industry – as one Finnish restaurant goes zero waste

A new study from the University of Eastern Finland looks at rising food waste in the tourist industry, while Restaurant Nolla in Helsinki cuts food waste down to nothing.

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File picture of food waste / Credit: University of Eastern Finland

As Finns are encouraged to drastically cut down on their food waste, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland finds that food waste in the tourism industry is more of a problem than previously understood.

Every year up to 160 million kilos of food is thrown away by Finnish households according to Hävikkiviikko, an organisation that highlights the issue.

Waste happens at all stages of the food chain and in households it’s single people who throws the most food away; although families with children also produce a lot of waste – and households that spend the most money on food also have the highest wastage.

In the restaurant sector about 20% of edible food ends up in bio-waste and the entire Finnish restaurant industry loses 75 to 85 million kilos of food each year.

In the new study, researchers conclude that while food waste in hotels, restaurants and at events is recognised and can be calculated, sources of food waste are becoming more diverse as the tourist industry does too.

File picture of healthy vegetarian food / Credit: iStock

“We can already see that there are savvy players in the tourism industry who have succeeded in reducing their food waste and have even managed to turn that into an asset” explains Research Manager Juho Pesonen from the University of Eastern Finland.

“Yet, it is not enough for only the traditional food service and accommodation establishments to reduce their food waste, we need to get all tourist households on board. As the tourism sector changes, research into food waste and sustainability becomes ever more important” Pesonen says.

While steps are being made to reduce food waste in package travel and hotel stays, the emergence of popular alternatives like AirBnB as a major player in the tourism industry landscape means that this whole sector needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to food waste issues – and the University of Eastern Finland team say very little research has been done into the topic so far.

“We need models that describe how food waste is created in tourist households, and how that possibly changes over time. Moreover, we need to identify platforms and intersections where food waste can be addressed, for example through social media. In the end, it all boils down to sustainable tourism and the circular economy” says Juho Pesonen.

Restaurant Nolla co-owners at a pop-up event / Credit: Carolina Mobarac, Restaurant Nolla

Restaurant pioneers tackling Finnish food waste 

Three chefs at a Helsinki restaurant have made it their mission to cut down on food waste completely, work more closely with producers and suppliers, and hopefully educating their customers along the way about how to be more mindful about food waste even at home.

Restaurant Nolla started life as a pop-up experiment, and became so popular the owners had to open their first restaurant a few months later, and moved to a new location in Fredrikinkatu earlier this year.

“We realised that there’s not such a respect for the farmers that grow the ingredients, so if a big chef from a two-star Michelin restaurant just decides to use the white part of a leek, the green part will just be thrown away with no respoect for the farmer who put in the work to grow that leek” explains Carlos Henriquez, one of the co-founders of Nolla.

“So we decided to do something about it, and we wanted to have a restaurant that is more sustainable, and we created this whole new concept of a zero waste restaurant” he says.

Alcohol-free juices from Restaurant Nolla’s kitchen / Credit: Nikola Tomevski, Restaurant Nolla

Restaurant Nolla is the first restaurant of its kind in Finland possibly also the Nordic region, and on the ever-changing menu you can find items like wildflowers and grains; seasonal veggies and sustainably-caught local fish; game and berries.

The restaurant is careful to have no garbage in the kitchen, no disposable plastic in the restaurants, no plastic-wrapped ingredients, and even gift certificates for the restaurants are printed on recycled biodegradable imprinted with seeds, so it will sprout and flower when it’s been used.

“I really hope people will look at this example, since we are being pioneers on this. We are doing all the hard work so for the next ones to come it is a little bit easier!” Henriquez tells News Now Finland.

When Carlos Henriques and his colleagues opened Restaurant Nolla they also had to learn about how to be zero waste chefs.

“I’ve been working for very different companies and managing very big restaurants, and I was very focused on how to buy cheap. How I’m sure that I’m paying the least of the products – but why wasn’t I focused on maximising the resources that came into the restaurant?”

He says they had to change their own mindset, to get quality ingredients that could be maximised in the restaurant.

“The regular customer who comes into Nolla doesn’t understand how we can be zero waste. They look at the food and say this looks just like a restaurant, how are you guys zero waste? We still use all the products but the customer doesn’t necessarily realise they’ve eaten the odd parts” explains Henriquez.

Carrots and yolk cream / Credit: Juho Vuohelainen / Restaurant Nolla

Using Nolla’s example at home

It’s one thing for professional chefs with the training and skills to use every part of a plant, animal or piece of fruit, but how would that translate into a normal household kitchen?

Carold Henriquez says their main message isn’t that shoppers necessarily need to use every part of an orange, for example, but that people respect that products they are buying and think about how to use them at home to help cut down on food waste.

Henriquez suggests some simple tips to cut down on food waste at home like using see-through containers to keep leftovers in, so you know what you’ve still got to use up.

Another tip is to put the products you like least in the front of the fridge, because if they go to the back they will never get used and eventually get thrown away.

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