Food waste can be a significant issue in hospitals, and due to the nature of the sector, is often difficult to address. The Green Healthcare programme carried out over 30 detailed food waste surveys, in both acute hospitals and community care facilities, to determine the types and quantities of food waste being generated in the Irish healthcare sector.

Such information can be used to check the effectiveness of the food delivery system, but more importantly, can also help identify significant opportunities for food waste prevention. In this section we provide an outline of the main findings from the food waste surveys, along with some of the key resources developed to assist Irish healthcare facilities.

If you would like more information on the work that was done under the programme, please contact us.

1The problem

Up to 50% of the food prepared is thrown away

Based on the results of surveys carried out by the Green Healthcare programme it is estimated that between 37% and 49% of the food provided to patients in Irish hospitals is not eaten.



While every hospital is different, there are generally two different systems by which food is delivered to patients in Irish hospitals: bulk food supply and centrally plated.

Bulk food supply is where food is prepared in the main kitchen and sent, in bulk containers, to the wards, where it is plated. This system can be operated with or without menus.

In a centrally plated system, food is prepared and plated in the main kitchen. It is then transferred to the different wards before serving.

Though different serving systems, different hospitals produce varying volumes of food waste, the programme has found that the average food waste per patient bed day is ~ 730 grammes.

2Why is it important?

Food waste is wasted money

Food waste disposal can be costly for hospitals, but when compared to the true cost of food waste (which includes purchasing, storage, cooking, as well as disposal), disposal is only a small part of the total cost. On average, the true cost of food that is wasted in hospitals has been estimated at €2-5 per kg disposed.

Based on the food waste benchmark identified by Green Healthcare, this means that the average cost of waste food generated per patient bed day is €2.50. While this may not seem like a lot initially, when taken over a full year this equates to over €900 annually per fully occupied bed in a hospital, or over €90,000 for 100 occupied beds. Of course not all of this food waste is preventable, but it does show the scope of the issue.

Nationally, the cost of food waste in Irish acute facilities is estimated at up to €7.2 million annually, with community care facilities costing up to an additional €4.4 million. While these are obviously significant costs, they do present a great opportunity for Irish hospitals and healthcare facilities to reduce costs and save money.

3What to do About Food Waste

Measuring waste is the best place to start

The first step to successfully reduce food waste is to begin measuring and monitoring food waste on a regular basis.

Monitoring the quantity of food waste generated in your facility, and comparing this with other facilities, will allow you to assess how the food provision system is performing, in terms of waste generation.


Measuring food waste

The easiest way to monitor food waste is to extract information from your waste disposal bills. Most bills provide the weight of food waste bins collected. If not, there will be information on the number of bin lifts and, while not as accurate as weights, these can also be used.

It is important to remember that the weight or number of food waste bins will only provide information on the waste that is in them i.e. food waste that is correctly segregated. The programme has found that it is still very common for significant volumes of food waste to be disposed of to drain and in residual waste bins. In order to get accurate data on total food waste generation, you need to look further than just the bills. The best method to gather detailed food waste data is in-house measurement /weighing.

Monitoring food waste on-site will allow you to identify waste trends. This information can be made more meaningful by comparing it to hospital activity (such as bed days) to create a benchmark.


Food Waste Benchmark

Benchmarking is an excellent method to track food waste over time, or to compare one facility to others. Benchmarking in the healthcare sector is typically based on the number of patient bed days (or inpatient bed days) provided. By dividing the total food waste generated in your facility per month (or per annum) by the number of patient bed days for that month (or year), you will generate a waste benchmark for your facility.

Green Healthcare has produced food waste generation benchmarks based on data from Irish healthcare facilities. The following profile shows the average level of waste generated in those facilities involved in the programme.

Compare the food waste monitoring results to these benchmark values to get an indication of how well your facility is performing.

4Food Waste best practice

Things you should consider for your hospital

Through working with Irish hospitals, the Green Healthcare programme has identified a number of key measures that can lead to reduced volumes of food waste. Some of the most important ones include:


Timing of meals

If you operate a mid-morning soup round, consider its effect on the amount of food that will be consumed at lunch and size accordingly. Patients can fill up on soup, which often has a low nutritional content, and eat less at lunch. This can result in overall reduced nutritional intake.


Focus your efforts on lunch

The programme has found that, generally, the highest quantity of food waste is generated at lunchtime. Is this the case in your facility? Try to determine the reasons for this and focus your waste reduction measures on this meal to start with.


Protected meal-time policy

Consider implementing a protected meal policy in your facility. This requires that visiting hours, treatment and other activities, where possible, do not take place during mealtimes. Patients can concentrate on eating without disturbance.


Nutrition and food waste

Nutrition, as well as presence of malnutrition among patients, are important considerations in the overall treatment and care of a patient. If something is not being eaten, i.e. if it is being wasted, it is not contributing to nutrition.

For more information contact us or download our best practice guide.

Food waste composting in Sligo General Hospital

See how Sligo University Hospital installed a composting machine on-site to turn food waste from the hospital into compost.


Food waste prevention in Mayo General Hospital

With estimated saving of 24 tonnes of food waste or cost savings of €48,000 per annum compared to the average acute facility.


Food Waste Prevention and Diversion
 of Recyclables 2010-2012

The estimated saving of 11 tonnes of food waste or cost savings of €4,800 to €18,500
per annum at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital.


Food waste Reduction Programme in University Hospital Galway

The estimated saving of 5 tonnes of food waste or cost savings of €10,000 per annum compared to the average acute facility.


Food waste reduction programme in St. Michael’s Hospital

The estimated saving of 3.9 tonnes of food waste or cost savings of €7,800 per annum compared to the average acute facility.


This fact sheet shows the quantities and types of food waste generated in Irish hospitals. This information is based on a series of surveys carried out under the Green Healthcare Programme. The nature of a hospital setting is such that a certain amount of food waste is inevitable. However, the programme found that there is always scope for some reduction in food waste amounts in hospitals, generating associated savings.

This guide outlines actions to reduce the quantity of food waste generated in healthcare facilities. The information has been gathered through work with a number of healthcare facilities under the Green Healthcare Programme, who were observed to operate best practice measures.

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