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“I felt a deep sense of accomplishment and elation. I am very proud of myself and I am equally honoured to have had my paper selected for presentation and publication at an international conference in Industrial Engineering and Operations Management (IEOM) in Singapore this year. However, this accomplishment would not have been possible without the guidance of Dr Oludolapo Akanni  Olanrewaju, who has been very supportive and welcoming of all my ideas,” said a euphoric Saijal Sucheran, Alumna at the Durban of University of Technology (DUT).  

The former Bachelor of Engineering Technology –Industrial Engineering student had her paper co-authored with DUT’s Senior Lecturer and Head of Department of Industrial Engineering, Dr Olanrewaju. Their paper titled: Food Waste Management of Restaurants in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa, was accepted for presentation and publication at the 11th Annual International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Operations Management (IEOM) in Singapore. 

The online conference was organised by the IEOM Society International. The conference aims to provide a forum for academics, researchers and practitioners to exchange ideas and recent developments in the field of Industrial Engineering and Operations Management. 

Commenting on Sucheran’s accomplishment, Dr Olanrewaju said that his responsibility was to guide her through in selecting a preferred topic and nurture it to the end. 

“It must be said that the student is the brain behind the topic researched on. Coming up with such a topic during COVID-19 time, I must say is commendable of Sucheran,” he said. 

In terms of research for the paper, Dr Olanrewaju said researching such a case study can help bring about a lot of change to the food industry with regards to waste management, as well as there is also room to grow on the research. 

“Minimising food waste is a tool to a clean environment, and a boost to the industry’s revenue. Engaging further in minimising the waste from food can lead to more food supply, hence more mouths to feed,” he said. 

Speaking further on her paper, Sucheran said the objectives of this study was to identify measures taken by restaurants in monitoring and managing food waste; to identify barriers facing food waste management in restaurants; and to suggest recommendations and solutions to improve food waste management in restaurants. 

“Food waste is one of the major concerns for environmental and socio-economic sustainability in both developed and developing countries. The extent and complexity of the global food waste problem has brought it to the forefront of environmental agenda. In particular, food wastage is of critical importance for the hospitality sector, whose operations generate excessive food waste, and this sector is one with significant potential for food waste prevention,” she said. 

With COVID-19, Sucheran explained further how the restaurant industry has been affected, saying that the restaurant industry in KwaZulu-Natal and globally has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in restaurant closures and reduced operational hours. 

“Consequently, many restaurants have had excess perishable food stock which could not be used during this period, resulting in high food wastage and huge financial losses for the restaurant sector. My research will prompt further investigations into strategies aimed at decreasing food wastage in general, and during disasters,” she stressed. 

Sucheran indicated that the recommendations provided in this study could be implemented by restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce food wastage and its associated financial losses.  

“Implementing new and expensive technological solutions to combat food wastage in restaurants (especially small establishments) would not be advantageous as restaurants may be still trying to cover their losses during strict lockdowns. The simpler, cheaper yet effective solutions would be more beneficial and budget friendly. It is natural for restaurants to shift their focus to gaining momentum again instead of focusing their attention on food waste management. However, focusing on food waste management, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, should be priority to ensure that further financial losses do not occur,” she said. 

Sucheran said that in South Africa, approximately 31 million tons of food is created annually, with about a third (10.2 million tons) going to waste. She said that she has always been interested in operations, especially in the travel and hospitality industry; airport operations, hotel operations and restaurant operations. 

“The environmental, social and economic impacts of food waste is a global concern, and as an industrial engineer, it is vital to implement processes that minimise such waste. Also, in a country like South Africa, where hunger and poverty is of major concern, food waste mitigation strategies should be given top priority. Food waste has been identified as one of the major issues in environmental and socio-economic sustainability, for both developed and developing countries,” she said. 

Sucheran said that she often visited restaurants and observed the amount of food wastage from patrons and always wondered how the restaurant actually manages their food waste. 

“I have chosen KwaZulu-Natal specifically because I reside in the province and frequent restaurants here. Moreover, accessing restaurants and obtaining information for the study was easier, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. 

Explaining the challenges in the topic of research, she said that from her research, the major challenges within South Africa are the laws regarding donating food waste, the funding for implementing good strategies and the lack of education on the seriousness of the matter. 

“Many restaurants are aware of the food waste crisis but simply do not have enough money to invest in certain technology to reduce the waste. This hurdle can be overcome by looking at simpler solutions first which cost less with similar effectiveness. Before implementing any expensive technological solutions, the first step should be to identify the major food waste sources and implement the mitigation strategy accordingly. The government should also consider providing funding or workshops to educate restaurant management on the importance of food waste management as well as mitigation plans so that all restaurants are able to combat the food waste problem in our country. More focus should be on the environment such as more food compost initiatives.  Ideas from other countries should influence South Africa, especially when it comes to policies surrounding food donations,” she said. 

Sucheran indicated that she plans to continue her research and would like to look specifically at certain types of restaurants – especially those with buffets, as the wastage at buffets are excessive. 

“I am also keen on examining how restaurants managed their existing food supply during the lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially their perishable food items. I believe that post COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants may have different strategies in place regarding waste, so it would also be interesting to do further research on this. I also plan to research more on restaurants that do have food waste management strategies in place and to ascertain the effectiveness of such measures,” she said. 

Her advice to other researchers who want to continue researching such a topic, is that food waste will be different in every country and every restaurant will have different strategies to mitigate the amount of food wasted. “This is important for the sharing of ideas through research, and countries like South Africa can learn a lot from this. Primary data would be most beneficial, in conjunction with a reliable and valid questionnaire to provide optimal results. Food waste is a major problem and it happens globally, therefore, research on this topic is extensive and it is vital that the best solutions are established in order to address the environmental and socio-economic aspects of food waste,” she said. 

Sucheran is currently working as a Junior Industrial Engineer at SPAR, South Africa. 

Pictured: Saijal Sucheran 

Waheeda Peters  

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