It’s a shame to waste, especially delicious food, but restaurants throw out this precious commodity daily. All that waste adds up financially: wasted money spent on the extra food and more money spent on trash collection. It also has a serious environmental impact.
Trashed food takes up limited landfill space and produces methane (a greenhouse gas, more harmful than carbon) as it breaks down. Organic matter cannot properly biodegrade in landfills because it is packed so tightly. Forty-three thousand tons of food are thrown out in the United States each day (CleanAir.org). TreeHugger.com outlines the global impact of wasted food.
Unfortunately, some food waste is inevitable in the food service industry. What restaurateurs do with that extra food makes all the difference financially and environmentally. Below are some conscious ways to deal with leftovers.
Donate Extra Food
In 2008, one in six Americans struggled with hunger, according to Feeding America. TreeHugger.com says two billion people could be fed for a year with the amount the United States throws away annually. The USDA estimates that a quarter of the food produced in the US is wasted. The statistics are staggering. On top of helping people in need, food donation can be tax deductible and it may encourage people to support your business if they are aware of your humanitarian efforts. Here’s how to donate:
1. Research the laws surrounding food donation. Liability issues may dissuade some from donating leftovers, but the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act passed in 1996 encourages such charitable gifts. The law protects donors and food distributors from liability when donating to a non-profit organization in good faith. See the full legislation.
2. Find a local food bank. Food Donation Connection, in partnership with the National Restaurant Association, connects donors to local hunger relief agencies. Feeding America has a food food bank locator, as well.
3. You may have to check local policies before giving leftovers is possible. There are many things to consider when donating food, but this fact sheet is a good place to start.
Compost, compost, compost!
Some inedible extras just have to be thrown out, but it doesn’t have to be into the trash can (landfill). Composting creates a useful product from organic waste. The EPA says 25 percent of landfill garbage is food scraps and yard waste, both easily composted waste. Composting will reduce what must be picked up by trash collectors, ideally cutting costs. Discover your city’s waste removal services. Does your city have a commercial compost pick up? If not, check for organic farms or independent collectors in your area that may want your leftovers for compost.
Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. As a serial eco-entrepreneur who has started, grown and sold multiple green businesses, Scott believes that capitalism, true capitalism, can be a powerful force for change, but that our current version of capitalism is severely hampered by perverse subsidies and negative externalities that make unsustainable products less expensive than healthier alternatives. Scott is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, and an organic gardener. Find Scott on Google Plus