Las Vegas Sands "Clean Plate Challenge" Helps Reduce Employee Food Waste

Food waste is a gigantic problem. About 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes uneaten. Americans are throwing away the equivalent of $165 billion a year and that uneaten food winds up in a landfill where it rots, giving off methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 23 times that of carbon dioxide.

It takes 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget to get food from farms to our tables. Farming takes up 50 percent of U.S. land and 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the U.S. Yet, uneaten food is the largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste in landfills. Reducing food losses by 15 percent would feed over 25 million Americans a year at a time when one in six Americans are food insecure.

The Las Vegas Sands Corporation launched a global campaign in the spring called the Clean Plate Challenge through its global sustainability strategy, Sands ECO360. The whole point of the Clean Plate Challenge was to reduce food waste and improve the company’s global waste diversion rate. The campaign occurred at all of the company’s properties in the U.S. and Asia and encouraged people to return clean plates after eating meals in its employees’ dining rooms.

The Clean Plate Challenge occurred for three days during a week in late May. During the challenge, 98,152 clean plates were recorded. Each property tracked the number of clean plates and the participation rate in the challenge. All uneaten food was donated to a local charity or put into on-site food waste digesters that turn food into greywater, which prevented any food waste from ending up in a landfill.

Las Vegas Sands wants to align its Sands ECO360 with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the 17 SDGs calls for a 50 percent reduction of per capita food waste by 2030 at consumer and retail levels. The Clean Plate Challenge helped reinforce what the company encourages its employees to do: take only the amount of food they can eat. The company also encourages employees to adjust banquet food preparation to fit latest attendee counts in order to avoid waste. They stopped serving buffet at internal events.

When food is wasted at Las Vegas properties, it is sent to a local pig farm for feedstock. In 2014, its Las Vegas properties started a Hot Dog Donation program to donate uneaten food at a local food bank. Over 260,000 meals have been distributed through the program to people in Southern Nevada who are food insecure. At its properties in Macao, Singapore and Bethlehem, digesters are used to process uneaten food into grey water.

Photo: Las Vegas Sands