Food wastage across the entire food supply chain is an important problem especially when there is growing population pressure as well as endemic poverty across many regions of the world. Surveys reveal that developed nations in general waste greater quantities of food than developing nations or economically weaker sections of society. This implies that public awareness campaigns should be conducted to educate consumers about the issues involve and to illustrate the wastage of resources and energy, as well as adverse environmental impacts, that such wastage causes. A literature review was conducted to critically analyze the extent to which these issues have been addressed by researchers. It was found that cultural and social habits are an important determinant in food wastage, especially for countries such as UAE, where a la carte services result in lower wastage than buffet services due to prevailing social norms. Based on the review a few recommendations were made.
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Increasing population across the world and limited resources have made wastage in the food production and consumption supply chain an important issue. Okazaki, Tum, & Flachsbart (2008) defined food waste as “any by-product or waste product from the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food”. On the one hand there is focus on the idea of circular economy, which many economists and planners are advocating, and its role in the minimization and prevention of waste generation. On the other hand every step in the food supply chain, and especially in the hotel, restaurant, and café (HORECA) segment is being closely inspected so that wastage can be reduced at various levels and sustainable levels of consumption can be created (Genovese, et al. 2017). This literature review analyzes some of these issues, including the circular economy, wastage in the food supply chain, and social and economic factors in the UAE leading to such wastage.
The concept of a circular economy refers to a regenerative system which emphasizes recycling of resources through various means. It stands in contrast with the current linear approach to the economy (take, make, dispose) which relies on resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption with only minimal recycling of used products. The idea of a circular economy is becoming popular because it is evident that resources are not infinite, and that current models of manufacturing or consumption are not sustainable. In its ideal form, the circular economy results in zero-waste value chains and the use of renewable energy so that natural resources are utilized in connected loops rather than being consumed and continually discarded in a linear pattern of flow (Lacy & Rutqvist, 2015). It is expected to lead to the use of goods with natural components, or “nutriments”, which are reabsorbed into the biosphere instead of harming it, while technical components that are not suitable can be repurposed through their reuse and recycle.
One of the critical principles of circular economy is waste management, and for this it has adopted the “waste hierarchy” model originally proposed by the European Union in 1975 (Williams, 2015). It can be described as a ladder with landfills at the bottom and waste prevention at the top, so that an economy progressing from the linear to the circular design climbs the ladder step by step as it gradually becomes more efficient and creates less waste. The model not only conserves resources but also protects the environment by attempting to recover and recycle materials and energy. Implementing the model has several challenges, such as the implementation of waste management strategies, creating appropriate treatment facilities, and applying legal frameworks. According to Singh & Ordonez (2015), this model can be used to complement several categories of “circular” products that help recirculate materials and provide a resource recovery route. They observed that product development from waste, as envisaged in the circular economy, can be a significant challenge especially if the composition of the waste stream cannot be predicted. Another issue identified was that variations in the waste stream, which are often unavoidable, may affect the quality of products manufactured from them and this may adversely affect the competitiveness of the product.
Food supply chain in HoReCa
The food supply chain plays an important role in meeting food demand across the world. It has become increasingly longer and more complicated with the progress of technology and caters to consumer segments that often demand local food as well as food grown in and delivered from distant geographical locations. An important part of developing and managing the food supply chain in the hotel, restaurant, and café (HoReCa) segment is food traceability. A series of food scandals over many years involving animal disease, food contamination and poisoning, sustainable production, fraud, and issues regarding production methods including labor issues, have resulted in the implementation of food product traceability measures in this segment, with most food production and supply businesses required to have the expertise to retrieve product history information.
According to Engelseth (2009) developing these capabilities have proven to be challenging both technically and economically. They involve intra- and inter-organizational efforts because products need to be traced form raw-material to finished product; from “sea-to-plate” or “farm-to-fork”. Food supply is the collective responsibility of a network of global business actors supplying foods through managing flows of foods, who also share the collective responsibility for providing information about food products and the relevant features of its supply. To investigate these issues the author conducted a case study involving wholesale supply and distribution of strawberries. He observed that customers are found at two tiers in the supply chains for its various products from the wholesaler’s perspective, with the wholesaler treating distribution centers as its customers representing the first tier. Each distribution center, in turn, has its own customers, such as retailers, kiosks or HORECA business units, representing the second tier of customers. He concluded that for perishable items the aim of the supply chain is to seek to protect the product through rapid transformation. Lehtinen (2012) also suggested that managing food supply chains in this segment represents a unique adaptation of technical product supply and providing information about this supply in a business context and this involves developing competence in product transactions and logistical supply.
Food Supply chain in UAE HoReCa
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the HORECA food supply chain in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the demand for halal food or food products that comply with Islamic law – for example, food products that do not contain pork or that contain ritually slaughtered meat. Halal dietary laws determine which foods are permitted or prohibited for Muslims so that it is important to ensure the halal status of the food products in Islamic countries such as the UAE. Spiegel et al. (2012) observed that the UAE apply rules concerning slaughtering and accreditation of Islamic associations and has created the GSM Decree No. 5/1985 which describes hygiene requirements and slaughtering procedures for livestock and poultry. Since meeting all prescribed religious criteria is a complicated task, a combination of audits and laboratory tests is required for verification – for example, the application of a ritual slaughter method is usually evaluated by audits and the use of halal ingredients by laboratory analyses.
According to Laeequddin et al. (2009) some of the key factors that are attributed to the successful supply chain relationship are trust, the level of interaction and commitment of the parties to the relationship, and bargaining power and contracts. Out of these factors trust may be identified as a critical one because building partnership trust is crucial for managing risk. The authors analyzed trust and risk perspectives of supply chain members in the UAE and conducted an empirical study of packaged food products supply chain in the nation. They found that trust is significantly influenced by institutional risk perspectives and suggested that the supply chain members should strive to reduce the partnership risk levels to build trust rather than striving to build trust to reduce the risk. They also found that trust can be considered as a risk coping mechanism as long as risk levels of members are within their bearable limits; when the risk levels exceed their bearable limits the subject of trust turns into risk management/security management. However, the authors cautioned that these findings may be specifically applicable only to the business environment of the packaged food industry in the UAE.
Food Waste phase (as the last phase of food supply Chain)
Wastage of food at various stages of the supply chain is a key improvement area because not only does it result in inefficient use of a critically required resources, but also results in unnecessary emission of greenhouse gases and wastage of water and energy. Approximately one third of the food produced on a global basis has been estimated to be lost between the farm and the fork at the same time that there is increased food demand from a growing population. Food wastes affect the health of the population, and have ecological, social and economic effects, making minimization of this waste a key imperative. According to Gobel et al. (2015) this can be achieved through increased levels of cooperation at the various stages of the food supply chain, and especially at its last stage which caters to distribution and consumption of processed and prepared food items. They identified a number of reasons in different categories of food items, including plant based foods (the main cause of wastage was found to be compliance with standards), bread and bakery (the main cause was loss of freshness), milk and dairy foods (the main cause was the production process), and meats (the main cause was compliance with health measures).
According to Parfitt, Barthel, & McNaughton (2010), wastage of food in the last stage of the supply chain, which occurs principally at the consumption stage, has increased over time due to greater consumer choice and an increase in the proportion of disposable income that is spent on acquiring or consuming food. In addition current estimates of food waste at this stage tend to be unreliable because they do not include food fed to pets or sink wastage – according to them as much as 30% of food may be considered to be wasted by being fed to household pets. They also observed that kitchen waste can be divided into avoidable, possibly avoidable and unavoidable types while edible waste can be divided into avoidable and possibly avoidable types. Avoidable food waste was defined as that thrown into bins which was edible prior to disposal; possibly avoidable food waste was defined as food and drink that is consumed by some people and not by others; while unavoidable waste was defined as wastes resulting from the preparation process that is not edible. The authors noted that approximately 150 to 300 kg of food is wasted annually by each household, which amounts to a significantly high quantity at national levels.
Food is wasted by households as well as in the HORECA segment both during preparation and after consumption. Quested et al. (2013) stated that reducing this wastage is one of the principal means of alleviating concerns about food and water security in developing nations as well as reducing environmental impacts. They provided the example of the UK, where 30% of the general residual waste steam from households comprises food items, out of which a large proportion is generated during the preparation stage. The authors observed that the wastage levels are significantly lower for residents who are 65 years or older when compared to all other age categories (at least 25% less), which suggests that behavioral models can be applied to households to achieve overall reduction of wastage. For example the Interpersonal Behavior model can be applied to influence waste creating behavior by examining social factors and attitudes of residents, and thereby influencing their intentions and habits. The authors also suggested that changes can be brought in to the retail environment so that customers are induced to buy the right amounts of food and take precautions so that the food items remain at optimal quality during the preparation stage.
Griffin, Sobal, & Lyson (2009) analyzed the food waste stream of a community and found that highest quantities of waste occur during the preparation stage, with improper or prolonged storage being a key contributing factor. They noted that cooks may discard the indelible or partially perished parts of the food item but they may also sometimes discard some of the edible parts (such as skins or seeds) in order to improve sensory attributes during preparations of the food items. This behavior is exacerbated by the availability of cheap food as well as by the tendency among many customers to hoard food items; inadequate knowledge of appropriate storage of different types of food also contributes to wastage during preparation of food. The authors observed that wastage of food at any stage during its preparation or consumption leads to a wastage of the energy spent to produce and distribute it, while wasted food may potentially harm the biophysical environment. In addition landfills may cause air and water pollution or contamination through runoffs or leaching.
While large amounts of food are wasted during preparation, some amounts are also wasted after consumption as leftovers are often thrown out. Leftover food is also sometimes consumed by pets which decreases the potential quantities that could have been consumed by human beings. Like preparation waste, leftover waste is also increased by the wide variety of food items available to consumers in the industrialized nations which often leads to buying in excessive quantities (Lebersorger & Schneider, 2011). A study of food waste in the hospitality sector by Papargyropoulou et al. (2016) revealed that buffet and customer plate leftover in a large restaurant can be as high as 40-45% of the total amount of food served on average, although the amount of waste decreased with an increase in the number of customers due to economies of scale. Buffet service was found to be more wasteful than a la carte service (although buffet had lower amounts of preparation waste), which according to the authors revealed that food waste was determined by the type of service offered, eating habits and cultural values of consumers. In addition buffet service was observed to contain much higher proportion of leftover waste compared to other types of services offered.
Similar wastes in other phases of food supply chain
Waste during food manufacturing
According to Mirabella, Castellani, & Sala (2014), approximately 39% of food wastage occurs during the manufacturing process in the EU 27 countries. This leads to management problems because it represents loss of valuable resources for the manufacturing industry and also contributes towards increased operations costs because most of the wastes in effluent streams have to be treated before they can be released to the environment or sent for recycling. Some of these wastes, according to the authors, can be reduced by industrial symbiosis, or using wastes from one food industry sector as raw materials for another food sector. Similarly, Priefer, Jorissen, & Brautigam (2016) observed that manufacturing and processing wastes may occur if there is no proper sorting of the input streams or if there are process interruptions, but closer integration between producers, manufacturers and retailers can help minimize some of these losses.
Waste in food retailing
The food retail industry has traditionally been acknowledged as one of the main contributors of food waste in the food supply chain (Mena, Adenso-Diaz, & Yurt, 2011). One of the reasons is that the logistic processes in storage, packaging and distribution are geared to standardized products and cannot handle goods with irregular sizes and shapes (Waarts et al., 2011). Lebersorger & Schneider (2014) carried out a survey of food retailing of various sizes during one year to quantify the losses of different categories of food. The authors reported that characteristics of the sales outlets, such as overall sales (individual as well as assorted items), area, and number of purchases made are significantly correlated with food losses. Returned bread was in general found to contribute the most towards wastage, followed by fruits and vegetables, and then by pastry items; the authors, however, cautioned that loss amounts are often divergent across different sized of retail outlets.
Social, economic and technical factors in UAE that lead to food waste in UAE
Several social, economic and technological (SET) factors applicable to the hospitality sector in the UAE were examined by Pirani & Arafat (2015). Among social factors, they found that the type of service greatly affects amount of waste generated – for example local culture dictates that it is impolite to finish all food on one’s plate, therefore, a la carte service with its larger portion sizes leads to more wastage than buffet service in the UAE. The type of food served was also found to be a factor, with fresh and raw produce generating more wastes than prepared food. Meat dishes generated the lowest amount of wastage, perhaps reflecting the dietary habits of UAE citizens. Among economic factors, the authors found that more wastes were generated at lavish events such as weddings than at smaller scale events and outlets, which indicated that the economically disadvantaged sections of society tend to waste less food than more advantaged sections. According to Lin et al. (436) some of the technical factors leading to food wastage include mechanization and malfunction of equipment at food processing plants.
Prevention and minimizing strategies in other countries
Studies indicate that 40% of all food in the US is wasted, which is a substantially high amount (Pearson & McBride, 2016). Some of the strategies that have been suggested to minimize this wastage include: standardization of waste measurement through a series of steps including goal defining, data gathering, calculating inventory, and reporting the results; increasing the experiential and transactional values of the food served to customers; and create a positive work culture so that employees feel empowered to minimize food wastage. The authors also suggested that food is generally undervalued in the hospitality sector in the US, and there is a need for increasing the awareness of everyone in the sector about the value of food.
Food wastage is an endemic problem at all stages of the food supply chain, from preparation to consumption, and addressing this problem requires diverse approaches and multiple strategies to be implemented. Moreover, industrialized and developed nations waste more food per capita than developing nations. Therefore, strategies for closing the supply chain loop in developed nations should include changing consumer behavior and attitudes towards food. Policies and initiatives should be undertaken to raise awareness of the general public towards food wastage and the consequent impacts on croplands and freshwater bodies, as well as the increase in fertilizer usage to grow more food (Kummu et al., 2012). In addition to public and private initiatives to raise awareness and educate consumers, another strategy is to create precise, optimized legislation for individual food types instead of the broad, one-size-fits-all legislation that many countries have adopted (Halloran et al. 2014). Yet another strategy is to create better infrastructure and improve cooperation between various stakeholder and components of the supply chain so that a more efficient supply process can be created. For example warehouses and storage depots can be improved so that wastage is minimized at the intermediate stages while packaging and storage can be improved to minimize wastage at retail points of sale (Hodges, Buzby, & Bennett, 2011).
Verghese et al. (2051) studied the role that proper packaging can play in reducing food waste, as well as ways of improvement of the present packaging system. They observed that creating appropriate proportion sizes and reducing the confusion over date labels is an important factor, while increased use of retail-ready packaging in stores should also minimize wastage at different stages of the supply chain. They recommended that packaging developers should consider the food and the package in unison and should also develop standardized methods that are easier to implement across the supply chain.
An example of closing the loop in the supply chain is the treatment of the waste that has been generated and further recycling into animal feed or compost. A study was conducted by Salemdeeb et al. (871) to examine the benefits of preparing pig feed from recycled food waste in the UK. The authors found that this practice may offer some benefits in terms of public health and the environment, although it would require support from the policy makers and the public.
Adoption and implementation in UAE
One of the strategies that may be adopted to minimize food wastage in the UAE is to donate untouched leftover food. For example the Red Crescent Society in the UAE conducts the “Hefth Al Ne’ma” (looking after blessings) program, whereby it picks up such food from a large gathering, such as wedding, when called upon by the participants (Aburawa, 2012). In addition public awareness campaigns should also be conducted, especially among economically stronger sections of the population, which highlights the wastage of resources and negative impact on the environment that food wastage causes. Local cultures and food consumption habits should be utilized to create more effective strategies, for example switching to a la carte events and minimizing buffet events. Marthinsen & Sundt (2012) suggested that this can be achieved through internal dialogues and effective communications between restaurants and hotels and their guests.
It may be possible to recycle food wastes for preparing compost or manure and implement such a solution in the UAE. This can be achieved by adding capacity to the municipal solid waste systems for treatment of food wastes. Using a closed loop heating system and elevated temperatures for pathogen inactivation is likely to be economical and technically feasible, as well as socially acceptable (Pandey et al., 2016).
Recommendation and Conclusion
Wastage of food is an important problem in modern society because it leads to wastage of precious resources and energy that could have been better utilized elsewhere. The review of literature revealed that more food is wasted in the developed nations than in the developing ones, while economically stronger sections of the population waste more food than those who are economically weaker. It was also observed that more food is wasted during the preparatory process than after consumption (the leftover phase), while manufacturing and retail phases also lead to considerable wastage. In order to prevent this, it is recommended that appropriate private and public initiatives should be taken to raise public awareness about the issues involved. In addition social factors of the UAE, such as consumption habits and economic criteria, should also be considered. Organizations that collect untouched leftover food should be encouraged and publicized so that customers can reach out to them more often. Hotels, restaurants and eateries should be encouraged to communicate with their customers and carry out private dialogues, and establishments should try to encourage customers to opt for a la carte services more often compared to buffet services. To minimize food waste at various stages of the supply chain, package manufacturers should standardize their packages and should try to optimize food portions. In conclusion, it may be stated that minimizing food wastage requires cooperation from all stakeholders, whether public or private, as well as greater awareness from consumers.
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