Reports: Foodservice, restaurant industry reputations hinge on less food waste
- ReFED, a national nonprofit, has released two new action guides for the foodservice and restaurant sectors. Developed in partnership with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, and with technical assistance from Eunomia Research and Consulting, the guides highlight the profit potential in prevention, recovery and recycling.
- According to the foodservice guide, prevention measures could save up to 600,000 tons of wasted food per year at large-scale dining facilities. Recovery is also highlighted as an untapped opportunity, since only 10% of surplus food is currently donated. For restaurants, the guide estimates prevention could save nearly 400,000 tons of wasted food, and recovery could capture the equivalent of 643 million meals. Recycling options, such as composting and anaerobic digestion, are said to offer some of the "largest diversion potential."
- Another factor emphasized in each guide is the "reputational value" of preventing and diverting wasted food. ReFED makes the case that this is important for both foodservice generators and restaurants to keep large-scale clients, customers that value sustainability and profit-driven investors happy. Increasing media coverage for the issue is also cited as a factor.
ReFED has had a busy start to 2018, following the recent release of a separate Retail Food Waste Action Guide targeted at grocery stores. The national nonprofit also announced it would be partnering with Compass Group, a large foodservice provider, to "conduct food waste innovation pilots" at multiple locations this year.
Like with the retail action guide, and ReFED's oft-referenced 2016 roadmap to reduce food waste, the potential cost savings are a key factor in each of these guides. ReFED estimates that food waste is costing foodservice businesses $11.4 billion and restaurants more than $25 billion.
In some cases this can be solved by trayless dining, smaller portion sizes and better analytics. Food recovery, a longtime charitable staple that has recently been expanding thanks to new regulations in some areas, also offers plenty of opportunities. Diverting that material can save money on recycling costs, bring in tax benefits and also enhance reputations through community engagement.
Due to the fast-paced nature of commercial kitchens — at restaurants, foodservice cafeterias or off-site catered events — it can still be hard to mitigate all waste from just prevention and recovery. Guest counts may vary, refrigeration may not always be adequate or accessible, and abundance is encouraged to ensure food never runs out.
With all of this in mind, it's not uncommon for organic material to be left over even if staff members are allowed to partake in the surplus. Sometimes all that's needed is a little investment and creative thinking to solve these challenges. Other times, it's best to recycle.
The guides do offer insight about on-site processing, or sending material to composting and anaerobic digestion facilities. For each sector, proper sorting is emphasized to reduce contamination. For larger regional or national companies, ReFED recommends working out an overall contract if possible. For smaller operations, it recommends working with municipalities for more information and partnering with local business districts or associations to arrange for more concentrated service.
While commercial organics diversion is still in its infancy compared to curbside recycling, even in some of the states that have mandates, it is seen as one of the best ways to jumpstart local food waste reduction efforts. The higher volumes and steadier streams can help keep both recovery operations and recyclers in business, in turn allowing them to handle the more variable material coming from residential drop-off or curbside programs in the future.
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