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Hotels: Put ‘bathroom’ signs on your buffets!

We're all worried about the water needed to wash extra towels, but we don't care about the thousands of liters used to grow the food we throw away
The breakfast buffet at the Mamilla Hotel, Jerusalem. (Courtesy, via The Times of Israel)
The breakfast buffet at the Mamilla Hotel, Jerusalem. (Courtesy, via The Times of Israel)

Israel’s hotels should take the “Save the planet” signs from guests’ bathrooms — and put them in the dining room.

It is all very well re-using a towel, but piling your plate — or plates — with food you are not going to eat is a much bigger deal.

What we need are signs on the buffet that read: “Please don’t waste. Only take portions you’ll actually consume.”

But the sad truth is that no hotel in the country would dare display such a message. In our topsy-turvy world, we don’t mind being lectured about wasteful towel use, or drinking with plastic straws. However, what we put on our plates is nobody else’s business. 

I love Israeli breakfasts as much as the next person, but piling plates too high has become a national obsession for holidaymakers, and wholesale waste has somehow become an acceptable part of the “luxury” experience. 

This week, Israelis are talking about the environment more than I can ever remember.  We’re all excited that heavy rain has filled the Kinneret to the highest level many of us have ever seen.  And we’ve also just celebrated Tu BiShvat, when we, as a nation, consider our responsibility for the planet.  

It’s time to challenge ourselves.  

The mountain of uneaten food left on virtually every hotel table is destroying the planet. Our eyes are wide open when it comes to the water needed to wash extra towels. But we are blind to the thousands of liters used to grow the food that we throw away. 

I’m overjoyed that the wet winter is replenishing Israel’s precious water resources. But I’m dismayed that much of it is being used to grow crops that will soon end up in the garbage. 

Hotels are an extreme example of food waste, but we’re all at it — buying more than we need tempted by supermarket offers, cooking copiously to outdo our friends, and carelessly treating leftovers. Shabbat leftovers so often sit in refrigerators, ignored and then disposed of.

As well as the water that goes into the food we waste, there is the fertilizer and the land being used to grow these crops, and the cost to the planet of transporting them. They are processed and packed. Yet, they will end up composted, or more likely, in landfill. 

There are some laudable initiatives to cut down food waste, such as the American subscription service for “funny looking” produce that doesn’t fit supermarket guidelines, a European app that gives stores a platform to sell surplus food at reduced price, and educational programs like the UK-based Love Food, Hate Waste. 

However, reducing food waste has not become as trendy a topic in the way that other environmental causes have.  

When I set up Israel’s national food bank, Leket Israel, I was determined to reduce food waste. 

We’ve had massive success persuading hotels and others to give us their surplus prepared foods for the needy instead of throwing them away. But to my disappointment, we’ve not yet managed to reduce the amount that people waste on their plates or from their refrigerators.  

We need to start a national conversation about our food waste habits. Given the environmental impact, there is no better time than now. It is time to get started.

About the Author
Joseph Gitler is the founder and chairman of Leket Israel -- The National Food Bank, the leading food rescue non-profit organization that rescues fresh, perishable food, working with 195 non-profits throughout the country to distribute nutritious food to over 175,000 Israelis weekly.
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