Technology from Positive Carbon is helping hotels and restaurants reduce their food waste while cutting down on costs

A few weeks ago, Irish company Positive Carbon announced it was going to start offsetting all its employees carbon emissions by 300%. The new “sustainable employment” initiative will see funds going to projects such as community tree planting and clean cooking fuel for refugees; this will offset each employee’s entire CO2 output and help negate the impact the company has on the planet. “It shows that we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk as well. As a company, we produce and develop products that help reduce food waste, so it’s important for us to be aware of the impact our company and our staff has on the environment,” said Mark Kirwan, CEO at Positive Carbon.

It’s estimated that 1 million tonnes of food goes to waste each year in Ireland. The food service sector is responsible for about 250,000 tonnes of this food waste, costing €300 million to the industry per annum and resulting in 875,000 tonnes of CO2. Research carried out by Positive Carbon found that hotels are by far the biggest wasters of food; on average, a hotel spends €200,000 a year on food that ends up in the bin. Set up in 2020 by Aisling and Mark Kirwan, Positive Carbon uses AI and LIDAR technology (the same technology used in self-driving cars) to tackle food waste. Its flagship product is a scanner that sits above a bin and monitors how much waste is going into it. Each day, a video is generated that shows and labels exactly what’s going into the bin. “That video allows the chef to say to staff, you’re over trimming here or over prepping there. It enables a business to make informed decisions around their purchasing, production and preparation to reduce their food waste.” Information gathered by the scanner show levels of waste across a company’s entire business. Generated reports break waste down into categories, attach monetary values and continuously track performance. Good for the environment but also good for the bank balance, says Mark. “We’ve found that our food waste solution can increase a kitchen’s gross profits from 2% to 8%. Customers who have worked with Positive Carbon have reduced their food waste value by 42% and that’s with very little interruption to their day to day routines.”

Aisling and Mark have worked in the food waste industry for the past seven years. The couple came up with the idea for Positive Carbon after working together at FoodCloud. “We thought, FoodCloud has found a clever way to reroute food waste in retail. We wanted to find a solution that would address the same problem in hospitality.” Businesses that have signed up to Positive Carbon include the Grand Hotel in Malahide, The Sandymount Hotel in Dublin, Gather + Gather, AirBNB, Primark, LIDL head office, DCU and Trinity College. Covid has proved both a blessing and a curse for the start-up. “All the opening and closing of the sector has been tough on everybody and we really empathise with our customers. With so many challenges facing the hospitality sector, the environment has dropped to number four or five on their list which is understandable. On the up side, we’ve been able to talk to some really smart chefs around the development of our solution. In normal times, they wouldn’t have had the time to help us.”

For hospitality businesses that may be less environmentally inclined, the writing is on the wall, says Mark. “Consumers want to engage with conscientious businesses. It’s just the way the wind is blowing. So many hotels and restaurants are going down the eco route and making sure they tell their customers about it. It’s about winning business and showing that you care about the environment as much as your customers do.” Positive Carbon’s food waste solution also saves you money and that’s often the deciding factor for would-be customers, says Mark. “Owning and running a restaurant is a really tough business with thin margins. There are only a certain number of concerns that can operate in someone’s head when they’re running such a tough business. What we say to our customers is this – you’re killing two birds with one stone. You’re saving money in your kitchen and increasing your gross profits, but you’re also benefiting the planet.”

Next year, Aisling and Mark plan to take on between 10-15 new members of staff. The couple want to bring their food waste technology to Europe and once they hit that milestone, they’ll go global. “We’re aiming to be in 10,000 locations in five to seven years. There’s an appetite for this type of solution at the moment and we want to capitalise on it. Everyone we speak to is keen on the product so we’re hoping that once all the restrictions hopefully ease next year, we’ll be full steam ahead.”