“Waste Not, Want Not” – Restaurants Adopt the Zero Waste Movement

If you have a restaurant, no matter where you stand on global warming and climate change, recycling, food waste, composting, and just reducing your carbon footprint in some small way, every day, is a noble, feel-good gesture.

Of course, the hope is that consumers will notice and dine there more often, but going green also has bottom line implications: Buying local, reducing packaging, and cutting back on waste can result in savings and economic efficiencies. This is especially true for restaurants where the latest craze is focused on eliminating food and packaging waste.

The problem is real: A United Nation’s study states that one-third of food produced in the world is never eaten. In the U.S. there are estimates that 40 million tons of leftover food is dumped in landfills every year. Foodservice establishments generate a significant amount of wasted food and packaging. Between 4 and 10 percent of food purchased by foodservice operations in the U.S. is thrown out before reaching the plate.

US Food Waste Disposal Data

As a result, there are “sustainable” restaurants all over the world reducing packaging, implementing composting programs, and recycling food. The farm-to-table movement is catching on as consumers want more fresh, healthy food.

In Europe, “ugly food” is the latest sensation as chefs are trying to give new life to misshaped, bruised vegetables and fruits that never make it to grocery store shelves. France put real teeth into the cause by passing a law that bans supermarkets from throwing away unsold foods. These leftovers must now be donated to charities or farms for animal feed.

In the U.S. post-consumer plate waste – the food neither eaten nor boxed up for home – is obviously a unique consumer preference. American culture today revolves around getting more for less money, and food is no exception to this rule. This can lead to wasteful foodservice practices in the effort to entice customers with large or “family style” portions. Post-consumer food cannot be donated to food banks because of health regulations, so plate waste is always thrown away if it is not doggy-bagged or composted.

Consumers can play a significant role in reducing food waste in restaurants. Suggestions include:
  • Take home any leftover food you do not eat – and make sure to eat it or feed it to your pet.
  • Use smaller plates at buffets and/or don’t pile on – there’s no penalty for going back for seconds.
  • Encourage your local restaurant to sell half portions of food if their serving size is too big. They can get a premium for a half-size, so the restaurant wins too.
  • Encourage your local restaurant to buy compostable plates and hingeware for carry out. Instead of filling the landfill, compost is the alternative that gives back to the community.
Zero waste isn’t just a pipe dream – it’s real and restaurants are leading the way.


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