How Restaurants are Cutting Down on Food Waste

Posted on January 15, 2014
Share Button


food scrapsCommercial food waste is an issue that extends beyond the grill.

According to a 2005 University of Arizona study, the restaurant industry accounts for nearly 135 million pounds of wasted food annually. [Source] For those keeping track, that’s about 75,000 pounds of food scraps for every restaurant in the United States.

Why Reducing Food Waste Matters

From an environmental standpoint, rotting food found in back alley dumpsters and landfills emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas that massively impacts climate change. Pair this with the high-cost of hauling food to landfills, and the restaurant industry has been all but forced to deal with waste in more sustainable fashions.

What’s Being Done About It?

Look first to New York City, where these staggering numbers prompted 100 restaurants to sign up for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Food Waste Challenge this past April. With a goal to cut the amount of organic waste sent to landfills by 50%, nearly 2500 tons of food waste was diverted from landfills over six months.

The success of this pilot program led to a separate bill proposal that would require New York City restaurants to send food waste to composting plants if they generate more than a ton of waste per week. According to the bill, scraps would then be converted to fertilizer or energy.

But it’s not just municipal governments making strides in food sustainability—private organizations have also found creative ways to cut down on food waste.

The Durst Organization, a New York real estate company whose property includes spots at the World Trade Center and Times Square, took their composting idea to the height of New York City’s skyline. Through their Green Rooftop Initiative, The Durst Organization will collect compostable food waste from their buildings to install an acre of green rooftop space throughout their Manhattan properties.

While there’s no denying the environments advantages composting provides, restaurants can also benefit from a marketing standpoint.

According to Jacquelyn Ottman of, “Restaurants that can proactively address diner’s needs have particular opportunities to enhance revenues, profits, and image.” [Source] Ottman goes on to suggest that providing superior to-go boxes that microwave easily and keep leftovers fresh will prevent uneaten food from ending up in landfills.

Other U.S. restaurants like Gobli Mongolian BBQ House in Los Angeles have taken to charging customers for any food left on their plate. With Yelp! reviews calling the restaurant’s policy “insulting” and “cynical,” owner Christina Rivera admits her sustainability efforts have been meet with mixed reviews.

“Some people are really receptive to it; other people say we’re doing it because we don’t want to spend money buying more food,” said Rivera. [Source]

Another Los Angeles restaurant, Thank You For Coming, has cut down on waste with an ever-changing menu that reflects which ingredients happen to be available in the refrigerator. By using ingredients quickly and not buying surplus, food almost never spoils before someone orders it. [Source]

But for many restaurants with set menus, the rotating entrée idea just isn’t possible.

These eateries can look to LeanPath, an Oregon based company whose ValuWaste automated tracking system monitors food waste in commercial kitchens. Using a complex system of scales and tablets, LeanPath even helps restaurants reduce waste over time.

While reducing waste is always good on paper, Chris Moyer of the National Restaurant Association said “The hardest part about doing anything to benefit the planet…is changing mindsets” in an interview with NPR. [Source]

Unfortunately, many restaurants don’t give food food waste a second thought. But in a country where larger portions are the norm, sustainability programs that cut down on food waste are slowly gaining steam.

With food waste seen as a low priority among many US restaurants, what is your eatery doing to combat food waste?

Plus: Learn more about how to reduce waste in your restaurant

John Garcia John Garcia (51 Posts)

Amateur cook, expert eater. Originally from Granby, Colorado, I'm a mountain boy who enjoys the simple things in cheeseburgers and pet cats. I'm also a blogger for Food Service Warehouse who enjoys writing about food just as much as eating it.

3 Replies to "How Restaurants are Cutting Down on Food Waste"

  • John Tichy
    February 2, 2014 (9:53 am)

    Is Scratch cooking better than prepared food?

  • Maggie Moulatsiotis
    February 3, 2014 (12:07 pm)

    Hi John! In regards to cooking from scratch vs. using pre-packed products for reducing wasteThe answer is: it depends. It all comes down to how you plan your menu. Here’s a great article to check out that may give you a little more clarity.

  • On the Fly with FSWDon’t Leave Going Green on the Backburner | On the Fly with FSW
    April 22, 2014 (3:27 pm)

    […] kicked Styrofoam to the curb and even proposed a bill that would require restaurants to send their food waste to composting plants if they generate more than one ton of waste per […]

Got something to say?

Some html is OK