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To Toss or Not To Toss: What to Do with Your Restaurant Food Waste

restaurant food waste

What do you do with all that extra food you can’t use? Or better yet, what should you do with it?

Many big chain restaurants literally throw it all in the garbage. Food waste, glass, paper and other recyclables all tossed away, with little consideration for this trash’s value as a resource. People all over the country (and the world) are starving, yet the big corporate chain restaurants throw away hundreds of pounds of food a day.

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But you’re not like them. Small- to medium-sized restaurants feel the local impact much more than their larger chain restaurant brothers, and simply cannot afford to operate the same way. Not only are you concerned about the community that you work in—the same community that supports you—but you recognize opportunity when you see it. Extra food doesn’t have to be hauled away by trash collection just to decompose in a landfill somewhere. Landfills produce a lot of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Why add to the problem when the solutions are so much better and just as easy? restaurant food waste

Donate, Compost or Throw Away?

Perhaps that food can be repurposed and somehow used in other ways that can also be beneficial. Start here: Perform a food waste assessment. Find out the facts about your restaurant’s waste areas, so you can start running a more efficient, greener business.

These are your major considerations:

  • What can be donated to various facilities, including outreach centers, farms and other industries that can repurpose excess food and food waste?
  • What food waste can be composted and reused in your own garden or in other gardens/farms?
  • What about the food waste that can’t be reused in some way? What’s the best way to get rid of the actual waste that needs to be tossed?

After you determine where your waste is coming from and just how much of it is actual waste vs. perceived waste, you can begin implementing solutions immediately.

Donation Options

Donating extra food has so many benefits. Not only is this practice tax deductible, but it also significantly cuts down on your waste removal costs, saving your restaurant money each week. Your excess food can be donated to multiple sources, including:

  • Food shelters and food banks
  • Farmers, for use in fertilizer, animal feed, vermiculture and compost
  • Local urban farms and garden co-ops for compost/fertilizer
  • Industrial applications, for use in fuel source reclamation (biofuels)There are plenty of other uses for your excess food donations and they’re easy to find. Look online or contact your local urban development center. There’s a lot of attention and interest focused on food donation right now and becoming a part of this movement is key to not only your success, but the success of your community.

Composting is Cool

Composting your food waste keeps your food resources working for you. Whether you decide to compost on site (which is great if you have your own garden), or to work with other local businesses to turn your waste into compost for their own use, there are many options available.

There’s also a growing industry of composting removal services that work just like your trash removal services. Even if you don’t live in an area that offers a composting service, there are other local businesses and industries that will gladly take your compostable excess food off your hands, free of charge.

Farmers, biofuel producers, urban gardening/farming co-ops and even other restaurants that have gardens of their own will all be interested in working with you. It’s not important if your restaurant can’t personally compost your excess food waste—there are plenty of others interested in working with you for their own profit and mutual benefit.

Other Things You Can Do

By educating your clientele, you can encourage your guests to help reduce food waste as well. It’s easy. Here’s how…

  • Have a mission statement posted near the host stand about “Green Practices”
  • Discuss how your establishment is working to reduce its environmental impact and help create sustainability in the community
  • Educate serving staff on how to respond to customers that complain about small portions
  • Add a brief statement to menus about your positive waste reduction practices
  • Use smaller plates to reduce the Delboeuf Illusion

Additionally, you can repurpose food in-house before it goes in the trash bin. Turn that old bread into croutons. Unused fruit can be turned into sauces or garnishes on desserts. Vegetable and meat trimmings and even bones can be used as a base in sauces, reductions and stocks.

MacGyver Your Resources

It’s time to start thinking about your restaurant’s food as a resource and not simply, “the product” you can make money from. A lot of resources went into the creation of the food product you buy and just because it’s not consumed by your customer, doesn’t mean it no longer has value. A bit of research and implementation of better, greener practices will mean everything in your kitchen is making you money—not just the plated entrée.

Of course, there will always be some food waste, right? Some people would say there’s no getting around that—some things will need to be thrown away. But there’s a restaurant right here in the Midwest that’s living proof it can be done! Reducing what becomes actual garbage is up to you and learning how to repurpose the excess will help not only your business, but the local community and the environment as a whole.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Wesley Fryer. Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Seika. All images licensed under CC by 2.0.

One Response to To Toss or Not To Toss: What to Do with Your Restaurant Food Waste
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