The awareness of food waste as an issue in the restaurant industry continues to grow and evolve. One part of the conversation that has stayed relatively unchanged is what to do with the 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste produced restaurants every year.
Most chefs have been socialized to the idea that they should donate their waste to food banks or community shelters to make a dent in the roughly 12.7% of insecure food households in the US. Unfortunately, these good intentions rarely turn into action.
As a 2016 survey from the Food Waste Reduction Alliance found, 56% of restaurants cited concerns about liabilities which keep them from donating food. This is even after the passing of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act in 1996, which specifically protects restaurants from liability should a recipient get ill or hurt as a result of consumed donated food.
So if restaurants are reluctant to donate their food waste out of fear of liability, what else can be done to reduce food waste and turn it into a means of social good?
Here are 3 easy ways restaurants can turn their food waste into a way to engage their local community in a meaningful way.
Waste-driven community cooking classes
In May 2012, chef David Groß had an idea; tackle the issue of food waste by turning it into an interactive art project in his home country of Austria. From these humble beginnings the concept of WasteCooking was born. This concept, which has since been turned into a web-series and movie, aims to use restaurant food waste as a means of promoting sustainability education and offering free cooking classes to communities.
Chefs and restaurateurs can take a page from chef Groß’s playbook and implement their own vision of WasteCooking. Collect your food waste and offer it up to your local community in the form of a free cooking class where all the ingredients for the class are derived from the waste your restaurant produces.
Use your existing marketing and social media channels to promote the event or perhaps partner with other community organizations that can provide support, such as an event space or caterer. Once you have decided on the structure of an event, see which of your staff are keen on taking part and schedule them accordingly. In doing so, you can provide your community with a valuable (and delicious!) service while demonstrating that you value waste reduction and sustainability.
Contribute to community gardens
Restaurant composting is still a nascent concept, however recent bylaws in San Francisco and promotions in New York are helping push the idea of composting food waste mainstream by mandating that restaurants should be participating.
Also, according to the American Community Garden Association there are an estimated 18,000 community gardens throughout the US and Canada. Given that massive (and growing) number, there is a good chance their your own community has a garden that is already in need of support.
Taken together, these two separate initiatives present a fantastic opportunity for restaurants to tackle food waste by providing their compost as fertilizer. Thus becoming champions of their community gardens.
Reach out to your community gardening association or identify who the lead participants are. Once you’ve made contact, explore how your restaurant can contribute your compost and how often it’s needed. Finally, work on establishing a clear process to pass along your compost to help out the community at large. When it comes harvest time you may even be rewarded with some fresh, local produce for your own operation!
Feed our furry (and delicious) friends
Looking for an even more ingenious way to be truly “farm to table”? How about providing your food waste to farmers or restaurant suppliers who can use the scraps as feed for their animals. In fact, as the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy states, this strategy is one of the most effective ways to deal with food waste that cannot be used to feed people.
If you find this idea is little more than hogwash (pun-intended), here is a success story that may change your mind. Since 2007, Rutgers University has partnered with local Pinter Farms to divert their dining hall food waste from the landfill. Pinter Farms collects waste from Rutgers' main dining halls and feeds it to the farm’s cattle which then are purchased back by Rutgers’ for use on their menus. Not only has this initiative saved Rutgers’ half of their cost of disposing of food waste, but this means Rutgers’ can now be 100% certain of the origin of the feed that their meat supplier provides.
Your turn to shine
These are 3 ideas that you can quickly implement in your own restaurant to help reduce food waste and engage with stakeholders from your local community in a meaningful way. Of course there are many more ingenious ways to promote sustainability and waste reduction, so we would love to hear them! What are you doing to use food waste to engage your community?
About the Author: Chris de Jong is the Marketing Lead for 7shifts, an employee scheduling app designed for restaurant based in beautiful Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He works with the rest of the 7shifts team to help their customers all over the world save time scheduling, reduce labor costs, and improve communication in their businesses.