Food waste sorting in hospitals and other healthcare facilities: Where to start?

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Waste management and especially food waste management is becoming a global priority. Moreover, in the healthcare industry, food waste management is taking another level, especially when waste management regulations are getting more attention and updated with the recent environmental developments. However, beyond the regulatory aspects, the healthcare industry is now more focused on reducing food waste and the resulting costs. Therefore, anticipating, training and integrating new sustainability goals are becoming increasingly important for hospitals and care homes.


So, what is the current situation in terms of food waste? How to sort food waste in healthcare industry facilities?


Every year, a third of the world's food is wasted. According to the UNEP food Waste Index 2021, around 931 million tons of wasted food were produced from all activities. Moreover, in general, food waste end up in landfills and produce methane due to its decomposition, which has a potential of 25 more global warming factor than carbon dioxide, in addition to the potential contamination of groundwater. This is why the United Nation Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 aims to reduce by half food waste by 2030, and healthcare industries are also taking steps and actions to contribute and to reach this goal.


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 8 types of waste are produced in Health-care. 85% of the total waste is general and non-hazardous waste, and in this criteria, food waste is included. The healthcare industry is responsible for generating millions of tonnes of waste around the world.


In Europe, the total amount of food waste is around 57 million tonnes every year. Moreover, of 85% of the total estimated general waste by the WHO, healthcare facilities can produce from 6 to 60% of food waste.


In the United Kingdom, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reports that around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually. And the healthcare facilities associated with food services are responsible for 12% (1.1 million tonnes) of the total amount of food waste. Moreover, according to the NHS Hospital Food Review food waste costs are around 230 million pounds annually. And the value of the total generated waste is estimated to be 19 billion pounds and is associated with around 25 million tonnes of GHG emissions in the atmosphere.


In the United Arab of Emirates (UAE), according to the World Wildlife Fund food waste is estimated to be 3.2 million tonnes annually. This waste costs around 3.5 billion dollars every year.


Food Waste management legal framework


All over the world, food waste management regulations are generally included in the texts of waste management.


In Europe, the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) in its texts there are many references to food waste. The directive sets the basics for waste management from production to recovery, including food waste. In addition, the European Commission implemented many actions following Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to reduce food waste and set targets. The measures also include the measurement of food waste to quantify its levels. These actions also will affect the reduction of GHG emissions resulting from food waste landfills.


In the United Kingdom, according to the Environment Act “if your business produces more than 5 kg a week of food waste you are required to have a separate collection of that waste”. The adopted Environment Act 2021 which became law in November 2021 requires healthcare facilities to separate their food waste from other general non-hazardous waste. Food waste is set to be collected separately from other waste. In addition, starting in 2023, all local authorities will be legally required to collect food waste separately from other waste. The actions introduced in the Environment Act 2021 aim and commit to reducing food waste by 20% in 2025 and eliminating food waste from landfills in 2030. In light of this, the NHS (National Health Service) works closely with other organisations to propose solutions for healthcare facilities and sites regarding their food waste reduction and actions.


In the UAE, the government has launched through environmental laws the reduction of waste, it is up to local authorities in the big cities of Dubaï, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah to manage the waste reduction plan. Moreover, to address this issue the government of UAE has implemented many initiatives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 for halving food waste by 2030. For example, ne’ma the National Food Loss and Waste Initiative aims to build a sustainable consumption policy in the UAE and actively working to achieve a 50% food waste reduction by 2030. According to the waste management in healthcare facilities, it is also up to each emirate to manage its waste, such as the DHCR Waste Policy Procedure and Guideline (Dubaï Healthcare City Authority Regulatory) in Dubaï that sets guidelines for waste management in healthcare facilities. 


The healthcare industry faces some interesting challenges regarding food waste management, especially with the customised and special dietary requirements for patients’ conditions, appetite, etc. Many unpredictable factors influence food preparation and consumption in these facilities making it difficult to optimise food loss.


Ultimately, it is up to the hospitals and the other healthcare facilities to put in place solutions and actions to sort food waste to recover it.


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How to handle food waste sorting and reduction in healthcare facilities? 


Preventive actions


It all starts with training and raising the awareness of all the health care professionals and all employees in the health care facilities.


Communicating information about correct actions and good conduct to reduce food waste that can be done via official meetings with statistics presentations, video communication, infographic, etc.


Other actions can be done by changing the food service policy in the healthcare facilities and followed by personnel training and adaptation to the newly implemented actions.

Here are some examples of the potential adopted actions to reduce food waste:

  • Food stock optimisation for staff;
  • Patients choose their meals, remotely and whenever they want: this will reduce the delivery time and the change of mind of patients.


It is important to keep all the concerned stakeholders updated and involved with food waste management and the goals set by the healthcare facility’s management.


Food waste measurement


First of all, food waste generation must be estimated and measured to adopt the best-adapted solutions to reduce them.


Therefore, food waste measurement campaigns are held covering a certain period. The collected data will be then used to be rated against national standards and ratios (or on an international level, such as in Europe).


There are existing tools that can be used to facilitate food waste management in particular and waste management in general. We are talking about the dedicated dashboard, that automatically integrates the calculation of the food waste generation ratios, in addition to real-time monitoring of the food waste produced daily, weekly and monthly. This “live” monitoring will allow the healthcare facility to adapt its food consumption to reduce food waste and take necessary actions quickly and efficiently.


The results of the monitoring and the food waste quantification will allow the healthcare facility to choose one of the 2 solutions: Composting or Separate Waste Collection.


This choice of the food waste management policy will greatly depend on the workforce of the health care facility, its finance and the proposed offers from third parties.




This solution or process allows the recovery of food waste generated in the facility to reuse as compost. Composting in healthcare facilities is particularly suited for small-scale food waste generation.


The composting location must be outside the facility, close to the establishment’s restaurant, break rooms or cantina. Composting bins or cabins are the most used containers and are easily implemented on-site.

Certain personnel must be designated to manage the composting site. The personnel can be from the healthcare facility (an employee, or any other) or an external service provider.


Composting will allow the reuse of food waste to improve soil health locally.


Separate collection


As mentioned in this article, the separate collection is an obligation for healthcare facilities with an important food waste generation. The waste is collected by services in collaboration with local authorities or private service providers.


A separate collection procedure is defined and agreed upon by a contract between the healthcare facility and the service provider, detailing the frequency of collection, time and date, and all this information depending on the quantity of food waste.


Food waste collection can be done in two different ways:

  • Door-to-door, where each facility has its food waste collection bin (or in some cases, the bin is shared with other structures);
  • Voluntary drop-off point, thanks to a food waste collection terminal located in public spaces.


The separate collection can be costly for the establishment and necessitates more human resources than composting. This may encourage facilities to produce less food waste and review their food resources management. Some healthcare facilities rely on the dehydration process of food waste, to reuse the extracted water and to reduce the weight of food waste.


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Best practices examples for reducing food waste


Some hospitals and other healthcare facilities have already started to make concrete actions to reduce food waste.


Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle UK, adopted new strategies regarding food meals to reduce their food waste. From 270 000 meals per year, there is only 6% waste of the served food. This is due to the installation of bio-digesters that allow the reuse and recycling of waste and water. In addition, a new meal ordering system, where patients order 12 hours in advance and therefore, the staff can predict the number of meals they need to prepare.


Hvidovre Hospital, in Hvidovre Denmark, has managed to greatly reduce its food waste thanks to great communication and high-quality service by its catering system. With approximately 10.9 million patient and staff meals every year, patients and staff have the option to choose their meals from a menu, and they receive them in small portions. Then, if they need more, they can re-order. Reducing the quantity of food in the meal, and presenting attractively on the plate, can greatly increase the appetite of the patient and employee. In addition, the hospital adopted strict inventory management to monitor their food product stock. Any uneaten and unused products are placed in the cafeteria of hospital.


In 2023, all healthcare facilities must find ways and solutions to reduce and sort food waste. In addition, this goes hand in hand with the new emerging environmental and social standards, and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. Indeed, the cost of the adopted solution may vary from one type to another and from one facility to another, but all this is important for the future of our planet. There are dedicated solutions that can help you optimise the management of your food waste and its associated costs thanks to interactive dashboards.


To go further: 

> To help you successfully manage your equipment, discover the Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) application on BlueMarket.

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