How to Cut Costs and Increase Sustainability with Food Waste Recycling

    There are multiple benefits to be had.

    A table full of vegetables.

    Unsplash/Chantal Garnier

    Quick-serves that take steps now to divert food waste into recycling will be ahead of the game in complying with new regulations.

    On April 14, New Jersey became the latest state to require restaurants and other businesses to recycle food waste. States that have enacted food waste recycling regulations, which include California, Massachusetts and Vermont, are part of a growing trend that also includes major cities like Seattle, San Francisco and New York. Internationally, Europe has enacted stringent recycling laws and Taiwan, which is projected to run out of landfill space by 2025, requires businesses to recycle 80 percent of their trash.

    With just 2,000 active landfills, the U.S. faces a similar problem. According to a report by the Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Protocol, U.S. landfills are expected to reach capacity within the next 18 years. Until now, coastal states with high population density and limited landfill space have been early adopters of food waste recycling requirements. However, as more states contend with dwindling landfill capacity, these kinds of regulations are likely to become the law of the land.

    Benefits found in recycling food waste

    Recycling food waste has a lot of benefits that go beyond diverting trash from landfills. For one, recycling food waste is a great way to cut carbon emissions and reducing the amount of trash in dumpsters can enhance a restaurant’s aesthetic appeal by reducing the unpleasant smells associated with decomposing food. Another big advantage is cost reduction. As landfills run out of space, rates have increased at a rapid pace. Meanwhile, recycling rates have come down due to increased competition in areas that require food waste recycling.

    Recycling is also a great way to deal with excess food from expired promotions. Rather than tossing viable food, Quick-service restaurants can divert their surplus to anaerobic digesters and turn food waste into an alternative energy source. Other brands have successfully diverted viable food to pet food manufacturers. In one case, 550 pounds. of food waste from an expired promotion was ground up and used to make dog food.

    Where to start

    Quick-serves that take steps now to divert food waste into recycling will be ahead of the game in complying with new regulations. To jumpstart your recycling program, establish a dedicated bin system for food waste and train staff on what can be recycled versus materials that are trash only. Hanging signs and posters can be a big help in this regard. Restaurants that establish a bin system, train staff and engage in ongoing analysis to improve their waste management programs can recycle up to 80 percent of their outgoing trash.

    Because improper sorting can contaminate an entire truckload of waste, it is important to check local recycling requirements. What qualifies as food waste in one area might be ineligible for recycling in another. For example, California classifies packaging that contains food residue as food waste, whereas Massachusetts limits the definition to food products.

    Figuring out which facilities take different kinds of food waste is also important. For example, most composting facilities will only take plant-based materials and prohibit food waste that includes proteins, whereas most anaerobic digesters only take organic or wet waste, although a few accept certain kinds of cardboard as well.

    Seek expert resources

    Staying on top of recycling requirements can be a challenge for busy managers who want to focus on serving their customers. Moreover, while many corporate chains have the resources to manage their own recycling programs, independent quick-serves and franchises are often on their own. For restaurants of any size, working with a professional waste management service can be an excellent resource when implementing a recycling program. An experienced facility service provider with knowledge of your industry can use data from equivalent businesses to estimate the amount of trash you are likely to produce and minimize trash pick-ups., which can significantly reduce costs for trash services.

    Minimizing your need for trash service is just one way a facility service provider can help with food waste management. Third-party service providers can also offer consolidated billing. For chains that operate multiple facilities, using separate trash and recycling services at each location can generate a huge number of invoices. Instead of dealing with separate bills for each facility, restaurants that engage a facility service provider receive a single, consolidated bill that is much easier to track. Another thing to look for is transparent invoicing. Having a clear breakdown of costs is essential to identifying potential savings.

    With climate change, rising landfill costs, and regulatory requirements on the horizon, implementing a food waste recycling program is a cost-effective way to reduce trash and help the environment. Training staff, optimizing processes, establishing a bin system and calling on expert help can establish a hassle-free recycling program that allows you to focus on what’s most important—providing guests with great food and a superior customer experience.

    James Bhat, Western Regional Manager for RWS Facility Services, has 20 years’  experience in the recycling and waste industry. He has worked with various types of clients such as industrial plants, QSRs and large and small retail stores. James brings a proven focus of sustainability to RWS, creating and enhancing recycling programs.