By implementing composting systems, restaurants and food service businesses can reduce food and organics waste—reducing their environmental impact, minimizing landfill capacity, lowering their waste disposal costs, as well as finding new ways to connect with the people in their communities.
By Carrie Schuster
Each year, 52.4 million tons of food is sent to landfills, and an additional 10.1 million tons remain unharvested at farms, totaling about 63 million tons of annual waste. Restaurants and food service businesses produce 11.4 million tons of this food waste. Preventing food waste from ending up in landfills is critical, since landfill waste produces methane gas, which is 23 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.1 Reducing paper product waste is just as crucial for the environment. In fact, more than 50 percent of all solid waste is made up of compostable materials with 28 percent of that being paper product waste.2 Recognizing the environmental concerns, many cities have ramped up municipal solid waste disposal efforts by adopting “zero waste to landfill” goals, and expanding waste removal services such as composting, recycling and energy recovery. While this is a step in the right direction, the volume of waste is only growing as the global population and resource consumption increases.
The Largest Contributors of Food Waste
Restaurants and food service providers, in particular, are two of the largest contributors of food waste. The good news is that this means they also have the biggest opportunities to invest in solutions, such as composting systems, buying in bulk, and only purchasing certified compostable take-out containers, napkins and paper towels, to help cut down on the amount of leftover food and paper products that end up in landfills. In fact, research shows that restaurants and foodservice businesses could actually gain the largest business profit improvement—more than $1.6 billion annually — by adopting these solutions.3
Unfortunately, many restaurants have not yet fully invested in these solutions. Some restaurants may avoid disposing of waste in a more environmentally friendly way because they associate it with extra burdens. These perceived burdens include additional costs or a large, pile of smelly garbage that attracts rodents and other pests. Others may not know how or what to compost, not realize the benefits of such systems or do not think they have enough space to incorporate a composting program.4 However, composting provides a wealth of benefits for the environment, businesses and people. Composting is an efficient, sustainable way to dispose of both commercial and municipal organic waste. It enriches soil, helps retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create rich nutrient-filled materials and reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.5
One significant step that restaurants can take to achieve zero waste to landfill goals is by engaging a trusted partner to help implement a composting program that improves the environment and creates value for the business and customers alike. A staggering amount of food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, from initial agricultural production, to final household consumption. Since restaurant food waste is part of this supply chain, composting that, along with compostable used paper towels, take-out containers and napkins can help restaurants maximize waste diversion and efficiency, all while reducing cost and landfill burden. When restaurants compost, they can decrease the number of trash pickups that are required, resulting in a lower waste removal bill. For restaurants that grow their own produce, compost can be used instead of purchasing expensive fertilizer.
A Successful Composting Program
To implement a successful composting program, restaurants should consider the following:
• Get educated on wasteful practices, such as large portion sizes, to inform behavior and operational changes.
• Educate restaurant staff on what should be composted and what should go in the dumpster to maximize results, such as composting food and soiled paper materials, both pre and post-consumer waste.
• Post signs around restaurant kitchens and other employee areas to remind staff to keep up with the composting program.
• Find a safe place for an onsite composting bin that is protected from harsh weather. Onsite composting gives restaurants control of what goes into their compost pile and where the soil goes after it has gone through the composting process.
• If onsite composting is not possible, find a local composting facility in the region and arrange pick up service for composting bins. A good resource is www.findacomposter.com.
• Use recyclable and compostable materials such as certified compostable plates and take out containers to further reduce waste that ends up in landfills.
• Partner with members of local communities and local businesses and work together to support composting efforts.
By implementing composting systems, restaurants and food service businesses can reduce food and organics waste—reducing their environmental impact, minimizing landfill capacity, lowering their waste disposal costs, as well as finding new ways to connect with the people in their communities. Food scrap haulers are also vital in helping restaurants and food service businesses implement composting systems. For restaurants that are new to composting or are interested in taking their sustainability efforts to the next level, but are unsure how to make it happen, haulers in local communities can help them figure out how to properly sort trash, recycling and compost. Haulers and other environmental leaders can provide the necessary partnership and tools to help businesses boost value by repurposing waste, while doing good for the environment.
Carrie Schuster is Marketing Manager of Sustainability and Hygiene for Essity (Philadelphia, PA), a global leader in hygiene and health, and the makers of the Tork brand of professional hygiene products. She consults with customers to partner and develop programs with the goal of achieving sustainability through zero waste, closed-loop recycling and composting initiatives. Carrie can be reached at [email protected].
1. A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent. ReFED.
2. Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2014 Fact Sheet. United States Environmental Protection Agency.
3. A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent. ReFED.
4. A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent. ReFED.
5. United States Environmental Protection Agency.