A family of four sits at a table at their favorite restaurant. Everyone orders their own meal, and the group also agrees on a few appetizers to pick at while waiting. Between complimentary bread and butter, and their hearty appetizers, the entire family is already getting full by the time the server brings their main entrees. Each of them tries to clean their plates, but no one succeeds — and no one takes a doggy bag. Once they pay and leave, the busboy cleans the table off, and the food left on each plate goes right into the trash.
This situation is too familiar in our world today. But not many stop and ask: where does that food waste really go? From the trash can, the waste usually goes to an outside dumpster. Food rots quickly, and even in the little time that it is in an outside dumpster, this waste can cause huge problems. First and foremost, the waste sitting around outside attracts pests, such as bugs and rats. In fact, according to Eliza Barclay of NPR, restaurant waste and their dumpsters are main reasons for the increase of pests in urban areas. Sadly, the life cycle of this waste doesn’t get any better after the dumpster.
The mountains of restaurant garbage goes from their dumpsters to local landfills. With multiple sources of this trash, it now amounts to about 15 percent of all food waste, and also the most common material, in landfills and incinerators. This waste is rotting rapidly in landfills and taking up unnecessary space. This not only creates problems in the landfills alone, but it also damages our environment and the planet.
Food waste is usually compacted in landfills, which means that the oxygen is removed for it to take up less space. However, the waste still breaks down — its decomposition produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is 21 percent more potent than carbon dioxide. This affects our atmosphere and ozone layer detrimentally. Not only does this waste release harsh gases into our air, but it also releases toxins into our soil and water sources. Restaurant garbage, along with other waste sources, have a hand in creating leachate – the liquid formed when water runs through the landfill. This liquid is dangerous, and hurts the surrounding ecosystems. The waste in landfills takes awhile to break down, so not only is this our problem not, but it will also be a problem for generations to come.
As members of the restaurant and food establishment community, we have a chance to resolve this issue. If we make up a large portion of food waste, then we have the power to reduce our garbage. Right now, restaurants can produce up to 150,000 lbs of waste annually. This waste comes from different sources in a restaurant, and it all adds up. Though a good amount of this waste is the food customers leave behind, there’s also a lot of garbage coming directly from the kitchen. According to EndFoodWasteNow.org, “The pre-consumer kitchen waste, which could be incorrectly prepared food, spoiled food, trim waste, or simply overproduction, constitutes an estimated 4-10% of purchased food, becoming waste before it ever reaches the table.” Most waste problems are directly linked to restaurant’s strict guidelines for food able to be served to customers. Especially with today’s demand for the freshest ingredients, more food establishments are throwing out yesterday’s produce. Instead of throwing away adequate food, donate it to local homeless or hunger-prevention organizations. This not only get the food out of your kitchen, but it also helps out those in need. With the alarming rates of starvation in the world, we should be concerned that, according to the Sustainable Table, about 40 percent of our food ends up in trash cans. Just like water conservation, food conservation needs to be prioritized, especially in the restaurant and eating establishment business.
Reducing waste in the kitchen may seem like a difficult feat, but some chefs found creative solutions. Chris Moyer, of the National Restaurant Association told Barclay that he removed the gateway to landfills – the garbage can – from his kitchen.
“You’d be surprised, once you take away the garbage cans, if people have to ask permission to throw something away how little you throw away,” Moyer said to Barclay.
Changing the entire industry, however, will not be that easy. Restaurants across the world will have to change their routines. The best way to do this is for food establishments — whether it be a restaurant, cafe, bar, bakery, food truck, or caterer — is to monitor waste outputs and create a plan to reduce those quantities. Training and education also have to be main goals when battling food waste. Composting is another option that needs to be recognized; this turns food waste that would otherwise stay in landfills into valid resources. Another source of our excessive food waste is restaurants and other eating establishments making too much food for their customers.
Meal portions at restaurants are the reason so many leftovers get left behind. Sure, people like to get as much food as possible for their money. But their money is going into the trash instead of into their stomachs. Another way to reduce restaurant waste is to eliminate the sources, and cutting meal portions and lessening the amount of food waste will help do so. Many restaurants are now offering half portions to give their customers options regarding the size of their dish. Another main source of food waste is from buffets and other cafeteria-style establishments, such as many weddings and college dining halls. Customers at these venues pile up their plates without realizing the size of their appetite. Many of these establishments eliminated the use of trays; this stops customers from grabbing multiple plates of food at one time. Colleges have reduced their food waste by installing this practice into their dining halls.
Being environmentally friendly has always coincided with being economical. This is the case especially with waste. Reducing waste can save money for you and your customers. As a nation, we cannot be throwing many away in the manner we’ve been practicing. The faster we change our ways, the faster we save money as well. The global cost of our food waste is estimated to be $400 billion annually, as calculated by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). We could easily put that money somewhere else, instead of throwing it into landfills.
We, as part of the restaurant and food establishment business, need to work together to make reducing food waste a main priority. We cannot sit back and watch 10 percent of all food purchases rot in landfills. We are throwing away money, and hurting our environment as well. The environment is not a renewable resource, and we need to take every precaution to maintain it and use it as sustainably as possible.