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The World's Biggest Hotel Chains Are Turning Their Attention to Food Waste
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Courtesy: Juliana Shallcross | News Source:

Every day, the buffet at Wynn Las Vegas serves a lavish breakfast and dinner to nearly 3,000 guests. That's 80,000 pounds of bacon, 20,000 pounds of smoked salmon, 120,000 pounds of prime rib, 365,000 dinner rolls, and 200,000 cheesecakes over the course of a year. More than a hundred chefs and cooks are on staff, some at live-action cooking stations, to make this “all you can eat” fantasyland inside a whimsical soaring atrium one of the best buffets in Vegas, and possibly, the world.

While not every hotel buffet is as grand as the Wynn’s, these over-the-top spreads make it easy to understand why hotels, according to the World Wildlife Federation, are one of the top three culprits of food waste in the United States (restaurants and supermarkets are the other two.) A small hotel with under 100 rooms could go through about 22,000 pounds of food a month, while a bigger property with more than 200 rooms could use as much as 66,000 pounds in a month, estimates Jeff Smith, vice president of sustainability at Six Senses Hotels and Resorts.

So it’s a good thing that as hotels are forsaking tiny toiletry bottles and asking guests to reuse towels and linens, properties around the world—including the Wynn—are also taking steps to minimize and repurpose food waste.
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“Reducing food waste is getting attention for all the right reasons,” says Smith, referencing the fact that one third of food at hotels goes unused.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a third of food produced globally and 40 percent of food in the U.S. is never eaten. That includes food left on plates, but also food that goes bad while in transit, food that expires while sitting on the shelves, and scraps that get discarded during cooking prep.

Six Senses, known for its eco-friendly resorts throughout the world (next up: Turkey, Israel and New York), embraces a zero-waste philosophy where nothing, if possible, goes to waste. Food scraps either get composted into fertilizer, sent off to agricultural farms as feed for cattle, or given to the chickens on-site at properties like Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives and Six Senses Ninh Van Bay in Vietnam. Goats trim the landscaping while grazing and in turn produce milk for guests. Discarded orange peels and pineapples bits are turned into disinfectants in cleaning products.

Six Senses Ninh Van Bay

The chicken farm at the Six Senses Ninh Van Bay in Vietnam

Courtesy Six Senses

Hilton Worldwide, which has nearly 6,000 properties in more than a hundred countries, is aiming to cut its food waste sent to landfills by 50 percent by 2030, a goal that’s in line with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Caitrin O’Brien, Hilton’s senior manager of corporate sustainability, says Hilton Hotels rely on the Hotel Kitchen Toolkit, an industry resource also used by other companies like Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG (the new owner of Six Senses), to educate their kitchens on preventing food waste, from ordering food from wholesalers and purveyors, to composting after a meal is removed from the table. Not that guests would notice any difference in service or even portion sizes. “It looks like business as usual,” O’Brien says. “It just enables us to waste less food.”

Other behind-the-scenes actions at Hilton include composting, sourcing food locally, donating what’s still safe to eat, and finding novel uses for waste. At the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, discarded oyster shells from Drago’s restaurant get placed into Louisiana’s coastal waters as man-made oyster reefs.

At Marriott Hotels, the largest hotel conglomerate with 7,000 hotels around the world, most of their initiatives also take place in the “back of the house,” says Denise Naguib, the vice president of sustainability for Marriott International. But guests may notice more dishes and cocktails made with ingredients that normally end up in the trash, like pineapple husks and grated avocado pits, she adds.

Hilton Riverside in New Orleans

In New Orleans, Hilton repurposes oyster shells as man-made reefs.

Courtesy Hilton Riverside

Meanwhile, Hyatt Hotels has made responsible food sourcing a priority, choosing to use local suppliers, which means less transportation is needed and the food can stay fresher longer. Several Hyatt hotels are also using high-tech composting machines in their kitchens to “digest” food waste in mostly water.

At the Wynn and Encore Resorts, a giant sorting machine separates food waste from general waste and recyclable waste, which in turn gets sent to an agricultural farm to be turned into pig feed. Across the country, at the new Encore Boston Harbor, food digesters turn the waste into a liquid that eventually gets processed into potable water, while at Wynn Macau in China, artificial intelligence is used to determine what kind of food and how much is being wasted in order to make better food purchasing decisions.

Erik Hansen, Wynn’s chief sustainability officer, says the focus on food waste is a smart business decision for hotels, but it’s also what guests are seeking out in their travels.

“Today’s guests are getting more educated and asking questions," says Hansen. "The hotels and restaurants need to peel back the layers of the onion with real and honest answers. It can’t be a greenwash.”

That doesn't mean, however, that hotels are closing up their endless buffets. It would be hard to imagine a Vegas resort without a gluttonous breakfast spread, but Hansen says Wynn is carefully watching how much food they order and how it is prepared to help keep the quantity under control. Seems guests still love waking up to 24 types of bread to choose from.

Marriott's Naguib says there are also smarter ways to run hotel buffets, from better menu planning to smarter food purchases and careful management. And Hilton Hotels says it will use “conscious consumption cues” for guests, like signs placed at the buffet that say, “Help us ensure that all the delicious food we prepare for you gets eaten, not wasted.” It is a small gesture, but making a guest stop and think about what happens next is often what leads to change down the line.

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