Reducing Restaurant Food Waste

The EPA estimated that in 2018, the United States wasted 35.3 million tons of food. That is more than the equivalent of 155,000 Statue of Liberties. 

According to the food waste hierarchy pyramid, source reduction is the ‘best case scenario’ when it comes to food waste. Although, the many challenges brought about by the pandemic, have led the restaurant industry down a path that is beyond this phase. Fortunately, there are many ways to manage food waste once it has been generated as an alternative to sending it to a landfill. Donation, composting, and organic recycling are all available options to restaurant operators attempting to reduce the amount of food scraps entering their solid waste bins. 

Before implementing any food diversion efforts, it’s helpful to know where the operation currently stands in regard to food waste. Audit the waste stream and try to identify current trends and how much waste is actually being generated. This data will be helpful to the team when measuring efficiency over time after adopting the below alternatives. 

Food Donation 

One man’s ‘trash’ is another man’s treasure. It’s weird to think about this is in the context of food waste, but it’s true. Most of the time, back-of-the-house food that is being tossed, isn’t because its spoiled, and often times, still perfectly edible. 

The next time that your restaurant prepares a pan of food that goes uneaten, or has an inventory order that surpasses demand, think donation. Knowing where to start, and lack of time sometimes deters people from taking this step. There are many different avenues that can be taken with food donation. For example, the team could take all the surplus food to a nearby homeless shelter. This not only helps those in need, but can be a great team building activity. Try searching online for a food bank near you and contact them to see how you might be able to partner. Often times, they will pick up untouched food items and do the rest of the work for you. 

Feeding America’s, MealConnect platform, is available to food businesses of all sizes, for free. Businesses can post their surplus food, and an algorithm determines which local food pantry works the best, who then comes and picks up the food. Additionally, outfits like Food Donation Connection can help you track the food that you’re donating in an effort to claim the tax benefits of these donations a true win-win. 


The Green Restaurant Association claims that close to 95 percent of restaurants’ waste streams could be recycled or composted. The first step that you might take is considering whether or not a composting drop-off or utilizing a composting pickup service aligns better with your business. To make such a decision, the amount of food waste being generated, and the size of the restaurant will play a large role. Perhaps, a large waste generator may find it more beneficial to use a composting pickup service, whereas a small locally owned restaurant may significantly benefit from taking their own compost to an approved facility themselves. 

Organic Recycling 

In the case of locating a composting service, contacting your waste management company that the current waste disposal contract is with is a great place to start. Check to see if they provide composting services and if they don’t, search online for a local service provider in your area to gather information and quotes. 

In the beginning, it might be helpful to educate team members on the benefits and process of composting. Perhaps, having a discussion with employees, and providing educational communication materials on how composting works, and what scraps can go inside the composting bin and what cannot. On the compost bin, you can also use clear graphics to identify what scraps can placed inside. 

Operators are often surprised at the impact that composting and organic recycling programs can have not only on the amount of food waste being diverted, but also how convenient it is. Simply, place the food scraps into the dedicated bin or into the compost pile instead of the trash. 

Believe it or not, having a plan for food waste once it is generated does more than keep food out of the landfill and preserve resources of the environment. The less solid waste a location accrues, the less pickups that will be needed. Each pickup comes with a cost, and if the pickup schedule can be reduced, the monthly bill will decrease. This results in money put back into the businesses bottom line. It’s a win-win. 

As a multi-location operator, this all may sound overwhelming and unmanageable. A multi- location operator is focused on expense management, managing staff, customer service and the last thing they likely have time to do is search for an organic recycling provider or find the lowest rates in the area of every location they manage. Thus, a waste consultant may be the answer. 

Waste consultants’ partner with multi-location operators to find the right solution for their waste programs that align with the business needs at each and every location based on generation, local regulation etc. Whether that’s finding the lowest price in the area, managing missed pickups, or auditing monthly charges, they relieve the operator of the time it takes to oversee the program. 

These partnerships provide the opportunity to track data on the waste contracts, monitor costs, and adjust as needed to ensure cost savings and ultimate success of not only the waste program, but the restaurant operation as well. Therefore, the partnership goes beyond the contract and pickups. The operator’s knowledge of the restaurant, and the waste consultants’ knowledge of the waste industry come together to aid in the long-term success of restaurant. 

It’s important to remember that every step taken to reduce food waste is a step in the right direction. Possibly, take a stair stepped approach and implement one thing at a time. Whether that’s partnering with a waste consultant to help multi-location operators make data-driven decisions regarding their waste or simply taking your compost to a local facility. Take some time to contemplate what small changes you can make to your operation. Seemingly minor adjustments can add up to have a big impact over time.