Takeaway, not throwaway - How an Austrian initiative is making event catering more sustainable

All event professionals will be familiar with this situation: You order a sumptuous buffet for an event and in the end, a lot of the food is left over. Our instinct often tells us to donate the leftovers to homeless shelters or other charitable organisations, so nothing is wasted. While this had long been possible, strict health and safety regulations now often prohibit food donations. As a way around this, an Austrian non-profit has devised the TafelBox initiative, which makes it possible for participants to take home leftover food and support a charity at the same time.

Those interested can order specially designed biodegradable takeaway boxes from tafelbox.at. One box costs 1 Euro, 20 cents of which go to charitable organisations that provide food for the homeless. The boxes themselves are then offered to event or congress participants so they can fill them with leftovers from the buffet. This is a great way to take care of the next day's lunchbox or to provide partners and kids who stayed at home with a late-night snack. PCO Mondial Congress & Events staff brings the boxes with them to the congress. The more of the boxes are used, the more we have to order and the more money will go to charity.

In Austria, there are many event organisers, hotels and caterers who already offer the takeaway boxes at their events. Initial worries that participants might find it embarrassing to take away buffet food proved unfounded in the long run. Depending on the audience however, it may help to demonstrate in person how the boxes are used instead of just putting them on a table. It also helps to get the client, organiser or a high-profile participant on board to advocate the good cause. Especially at events that take place regularly, delegates often lose their shyness and welcome the boxes provided. That said, "TafelBox" is not really suitable for seated dinners or when participants move on to another event afterwards.

In conclusion, food waste is a real problem in gastronomy and event organisation. The TafelBox initiative saves organisers and caterers time on waste management, which also benefits the environment. Participants can enjoy another quality meal and by doing so support homeless people in Austria. This creates a win-win situation for everyone.