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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Dubai's lavish hotel and restaurant displays a major source of food waste, campaigners say

Staff feel under pressure to produce huge amounts of food, as Dubai Municipality says city's landfill space is running out

Corporate events, dinner buffets and brunches are a major source of food waste, campaigners said. Paulo Vecina / The National
Corporate events, dinner buffets and brunches are a major source of food waste, campaigners said. Paulo Vecina / The National

Hotels and restaurants are fuelling food waste by displaying lavish amounts of food for guests, a debate in Dubai has heard.

By piling food high for dinner buffets and brunches and overstocking for corporate events, the hospitality industry is causing significant amounts of waste and putting pressure on landfill sites.

The average UAE resident produces 2.7 kilograms of waste per day, according to Dubai Carbon, both food and packaging. It is estimated about Dh13 billion worth of food is wasted by businesses and consumers in the country.

That was one of the key findings from a panel discussion organised by Emirates Environmental Group at Dubai’s Modul University on how to reduce food waste, entitled Zero Waste: Food for Thought?

Nancy Nouaimeh, Abela & Co, who took part in the panel discussion warned that the pressure that staff in hotels, restaurants and malls are under to provide vast quantities of food is a huge problem for the region.

“Service staff are afraid that if they run out of food it will reflect badly on them,” she said.

“They are feeling stress from the pressure to provide plenty of food, it is sometimes the case they are afraid of possibly ruining someone’s day if they run out.”

It is no secret that Dubai is renowned for its opulent hospitality offerings, with lavish brunches a major selling point across the region’s hotels.

But all that comes at a cost, said Ms Nouiameh.

“We need to encourage people to control their portions,” she said.

“It is about taste not waste, we cannot continue to allow so much food to be left over.”

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That was a view that was shared by fellow panel member Fatima Ahmed Abdullah Al Harmoudi, Abu Dhabi Centre for Waste Management (Tadweer).

“It is common to see partially consumed foods in malls and restaurants,” she said.

“We have to change the culture and encourage people to take only what they can eat.”

It is not unusual to experience an iftar or brunch in Dubai where there is enough food to feed hundreds of people but only a fraction of that show up. The question then is what happens to all that left over food?

“It is all about education and training people to have the right mentality when it comes to serving food,” said Abdul Quddus Sheikh, director of engineering at the Armani Hotel.

“We offer smaller portions than we did in the past. There is still an issue, of course, if we are hosting an event for 500 people and only 200 people show up, what happens to all that extra food? We freeze it and distribute it to the food banks, so there is absolutely no waste.”

The National reported in May how food banks across the UAE had collected over 2,000 tons of food over the past 12 months.

During the first quarter of 2018, the total amount of foodstuffs received by the UAE Food Bank reached 232 tonnes, and they distributed 1,000 meals every Friday to workers provided by Zabeel Palace.

The problem of food being wasted is so rife that three hotel operators, Emaar, Majid Al Futtaim and Rotana, made a pledge last month to cut down on waste and save one million meals by the end of the year.

Excessive amounts of food in Dubai’s hotels and restaurants were not the only topic on the agenda at Wednesday’s event.

Naji Radhi, waste management and treatment expert in Dubai Municipality, warned that Dubai is running out of landfill space to cope with the level of waste.

“By 2050 we will have 273 million tons of waste that needs to be landfilled,” he said.

“Dubai is small though and a lot of land is restricted as airspace. Birds are attracted to landfills because of the waste and that could cause a serious accident if it is too close to the airport.”

Also on the agenda was the need for consumers to convince people to buy more local produce rather than imported products that create more waste.

“We need to ensure people are buying more local produce,” said Huzefa Rupawala, regional manager of Lulu Group International, who was dismissive of suggestions that local produce is too expensive for some people.

“That used to be the case five years ago when it was two or three times more expensive,” he said.

“But we are now seeing an increase in demand which means more is produced, making it more widely available. People are starting to demand better quality local produce and that is something we are going to see more and more of.”