Toilets, Tourism And Mongolia
November 13, 2022
Mongolia's Winter Horse Festival
Mongolia’s Winter Horse Festival
December 6, 2022
Mongolian dumplings being made by hand

Measuring Our Food Waste

On a global scale, an estimated 17 percent of total global food production – approximately 931 million tons of food — ends up being wasted in retail and by consumers. Much of this food waste takes place in households  (11 percent in households, 5 percent in the food service and 2 percent in retail). [United Nations, 2022 – https://www.un.org/en/observances/end-food-waste-day] Food waste is also one a large contributor to global warming and climate change:

‘The fact that substantial amounts of food are produced but not eaten by humans has substantial negative impacts: environmentally, socially and economically. Estimates suggest that 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed.’

UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021 – https://www.unep.org/resources/report/unep-food-waste-index-report-20210

As food is an important aspect of everyday life including on our tours in Mongolia, how we manage food and food waste can have significant implications for the environment. But, food waste is a complicated problem especially as we work solely in Mongolia – a country currently without any form of food waste collection – and run tours focusing on homestay experiences hosted by remote herding families.  There’s no one-step fix but, there are actions that we can take.

Identifying Our Main Food Waste Sources

Firstly, we need to identify the main sources that our food waste comes from. These are:

  • Unserved food waste: Food that was intended to be eaten but for some reason was not. This can include out-of-date stock or customer variability.
  • Plate waste: Uneaten food left on plates. This is often down to portion size.
  • Preparation waste: Primarily made up of unavoidable trimmings and peelings but often has room for improvement.

Food Waste Collection Mongolia

According to the Asian Development Bank, approximately 2.9 million tons of solid waste is generated annually in Mongolia, out of which approximately 1.2 million tons is in Ulaanbaatar. Although 17.8% of this solid waste is recycled in Ulaanbaatar food waste is not recycled and just disposed of in formal landfills or illegally dumped.

The Ulaanbaatar Community Food Waste Recycling Project grant fund from ADB and the Japan Fund for Prosperous and Resilient Asia and the Pacific is looking at ways that the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar (MUB) can conduct food waste recycling with community participation as a way of not only improving the living environment but also to reduce health risk, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide opportunities for new business and jobs through pilot projects.

 

Actions To Limit Our Food Waste

A majority of meals on each multi-day experience (two days or more) we arrange are prepared by the EL team using a small mobile kitchen that is transported in the back of the EL tour vehicle. The reason we cook our own meals is the flexibility it provides. Tourist ger camps often have restricted meal times. Also, the standard of meals varies from camp to camp and we have no way of controlling the menu or how the food is purchased. In addition, we work in long-term local community partnership with rural families. By preparing our own meals, we are not putting pressure on their limited resources including time and fuel.

Looking at how we plan and prepare meals on our tour experiences, there are actions we can take to help prevent food waste. We’re a small company limited by our financial resources so we will start small and once we have identified the main sources of food waste in our business, we will consider the following potential actions to target them. With everything we do we start starting small allows us to tackle one or two actions successfully and leads to lasting change. Once new changes have been fully embraced, we will start the process again to see what can be targeted next. We’ll report here back at the end of 2023 as to what we have achieved.

Our Restrictions | What We Already Do

 Our office is a two-room apartment on the second floor of a nine-floor apartment building and our storage space is very limited* so we do not bulk-purchase items.  (Also, bulk buying has the potential for a false economy especially with foods with a short to medium shelf-life.) Also, being a very small team we do not have an assigned purchaser. Because we don’t have storage space, each team typically purchases the food required for their specific tour on Day One of the tour experience starting. We are also limited by the storage space in our tour vehicles and also that we don’t have access to refrigeration/cold storage when on tour.

(Although we own two storage shipping containers in Ulaanbaatar, these are not in the same location as the office and are primarily used for our larger equipment items such as tents, mountain bikes and the kitchens mentioned.)

But, a majority of our team members come from herding families or have relatives who are herders. In herding families, the value of food is derived from the process of rearing and eating their own produce. The result of this proximity to food production is that herders are less inclined to waste food. Also, Mongolian families still rely on traditional techniques to enable certain food to last without refrigeration – such as borts which is air-dried concentrated meat – and we use some of these traditional methods in the preparation and storage of food on tour. One example is ‘shuuz’ when chopped meat is salted and cooked in its juice until it has no more juice. Well-cooked shuuz can last a month. 

Inside Mongolia's reindeer herders ortz - teepee

We already consider our ‘foodprint’ as part of our Climate Action Plan Our teams already purchase local seasonal produce to help support each community they pass through. Examples include blueberries, strawberries, and blackcurrants, wild onions, rhubarb, pine nuts, watermelons (small and fresh), cucumbers or tomatoes, and salad leaves.  We also take food miles into consideration (0ur guests may see a pineapple in one of the markets but, we won’t necessarily buy it!) and do not import food items. Our team still prepares traditional meat-based Mongolian dishes but they also prepare vegetable-based dishes as well.

Delicious fresh and local produce at a fruit and vegetable market in Bulgan Aimag, northern Mongolia

 

 

Our Actions

  • We will brainstorm as a team to identify the types and quantities of food waste we are generating and to understand the reasons why food is being wasted. We will then look at ways we can reduce food waste and write up a strategy for reducing waste and a list of actions that can be easily taken by team members.
  • Our teams primarily make meals from scratch apart from using packaged sauces or similar food items. However, we will do more research into food storage to see if there are ways we can help to preserve additional food items by using reusable airtight containers or using vacuum packs to prevent unnecessary dehydration and spoilage. We already prepare meat in the traditional Mongolian way that aids preservation so it can be kept safely without refrigeration. Also, we provide UHT or powdered milk as this helps with storage and preservation.
  • We already carry out menu training and planning as well cookery lessons in the low-season months. Menu books are put together for our team by our team and are refreshed each year so they remain relevant not only to the tour experiences we provide but also to the ingredients we can purchase and prepare.  We will continue to carry out this training and menu planning.
  • We will look at ways we can turn leftovers/non-used food such as bread into breadcrumbs. We already turn vegetables into soup and fruit into a fruit salad.
  • We will look at what we put on the table prior to a meal. For example, we often serve bread or crackers before a meal but this can lead to food waste from the main meal.
  • Portion sizes are one of the biggest challenges we face – a constant balancing act- and are tricky to get right especially as generous hospitality is part of Mongolian culture. Portion size can also be a matter of perception. But we’ll look at ways we can standardise portions such as by using measuring cups, or look at offering second helpings rather than initial large portions, or even offering half portions or side portions.
  • We already use reusable utensils, washable cups and glasses, and refillable containers. But will look at further ways we can eliminate single-use disposable items such as sachets of sauces and jam.
  • On certain days in our tour experiences, we don’t include lunch or dinner. This allows our guests to explore the local restaurants, bars, or cafes and make their own decision as to where to eat and helps to reduce the number of meals that EL is preparing.

If you have any comments or suggestions or would like more information on how we are measuring our food waste, please do get in touch.

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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