Cafeteria Management Insights

Sustainable Ways to Dispose of Food Waste

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Sustainable Ways to Dispose of Food Waste

Some surveys have shown that up to one in every six Americans go hungry on a daily basis. Food pantries are overwhelmed with the demands of trying to feed increasing numbers of hungry families. The numbers of school age children qualifying for free breakfasts and lunches in school cafeterias is on the rise. Yet, many restaurants serve such large portions of food that much of it is left on the plate to be thrown out, especially the "All You Can Eat" buffets where the diner's eyes are often bigger than their bellies. The amount of waste is staggering. It is estimated that twenty percent of the trash in landfills and incinerators is food waste. In 2010 Americans discarded approx 35 million tons of wasted food.

Grocery stores routinely discard food items that have reached the "sell by" date. In reality the "sell by" date is less important than the "use by" date.  When the "sell by" date is reached, food is still healthily edible for several more days or in some cases for up to several weeks. Some of this food can be frozen and used at a later date. The produce section of most food chains is cleaned out on a daily basis and many items that still have nutritional benefit and are safe to consume are discarded because their appearance is less than perfect. Due to the increase in the numbers of hungry Americans many grocery chains, restaurants and cafeterias have begun offering these food items to food pantries or homeless shelters in their communities, rather than discarding them. Food pantries and shelters are grateful to pick up still usable donated food and distribute it to the needy in a timely manner. Feeding the hungry is a preferable option to trashing healthy edible food.

What happens to food in a restaurant that has been ordered mistakenly, inadvertently dropped on the floor, not cooked according to a customer’s preferences or food items that have been over bought? These items are routinely thrown into a dumpster to be hauled to a landfill. Meals that have been mistakenly ordered and over stocked items can be used to feed the hungry. Those dropped or improperly cooked, are useful as compost and the restaurant can save on operating expenses by lowering disposal costs.

Some companies have expressed concern about proper handling of donated food once it has left their hands and the possibility of liability issues. In order to protect food service organizations from liability when donating food products the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed in 1996. This act protects all food and grocery donors who donate apparently wholesome food in good faith to the needy (501/(C) non-profit organizations) from civil and criminal liability.

In response to the growing food waste problem, New York City has initiated curbside collection of food and yard waste in high rise buildings, school cafeterias and residences. The plan provides waste containers, similar to trash and recycling barrels, to be picked up curbside at a routine scheduled time. This food waste is then used for compost in city parks and gardens, thereby keeping large amounts of food waste out of the landfills while beautifying the city and saving money for the taxpayers. The only restrictions are on meat and dairy products as they are not usable for composting purposes. So far, the program has been successful and may become a model for other cities to follow.

Composted, amended soil lessens the need for fertilizers, water and pesticides. It also eliminates methane gas produced by food waste. Methane gas is two times more potent than Carbon Dioxide and harmful to the environment. Composting companies are springing up around the country and are receiving their food waste from food service operations such as cafeterias, restaurants, the grocery store produce section or leftovers from salad bars. Composting cuts down on the amount of waste in landfills and incinerators, contributes to a city’s economy, helps the environment, benefits the quality and increases the yield of crops grown on farms and backyard gardens.

Another option for disposing food waste is for use as animal feed. Local farms contract with food service organizations to purchase at a low cost, or sometimes at no cost, leftover vegetative waste. The laws regarding donated animal feed vary from state to state, most ban meat or dairy. Contact state regulators for guidelines and proper handling procedures

A fourth method of disposing food wastes is by donating or selling used cooking oil to be reused as fuel. Bio fuel producers manufacture fuel from cooking oil that has been used in large quantities by cafeterias, schools, hospitals, restaurants and institutions.

Green InitiativeCafé Services has been a leader in green initiatives in the food service industry. We actively practice the motto, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. From the purchase of green products whenever possible, to reducing the amount of paper products used and recycling food waste, Café Services helps to protect the environment while assisting local communities. Food waste for composting is offered to any location in the vicinity that wants it. Food waste products are also offered to farmers for reuse in livestock feeding and used cooking oil is sold for reuse as fuel.

In addition to these four major methods of disposing of food waste, there are things we all can do to lessen the amount of waste in landfills and incinerators. First is practicing proper food prep and storage.  Before reaching a plate 4% to 10% of food is discarded because of improper handling, or forgetting food that has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. If we purchase only what we will actually eat, store it correctly, plan meals around it and actually eat it, a large amount of food waste will be eliminated.

Secondly, if we control portion sizes, there will be less leftover plate food. Plan meals around the use of leftovers or if you are dining in a restaurant take home the uneaten food on your plate and reheat it for another meal. Small, attractive composting receptacles are available to keep on your kitchen counter for storing food waste until it can be used for compost in a garden. Although big corporations and institutions can make a bigger impact in the area of disposing of food waste, individuals collectively making small changes make an impact as well.

Many of the millions of hungry Americans could be fed if we kept 20 % less food waste out of landfills. This can be accomplished if local restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias, schools, hospitals and corporations were encouraged to engage in the practices of offering food to food pantries or homeless shelters, offering food scraps for local composting or feeding animals, and selling used cooking oil to bio fuel producers. These simple practices can go a long way reducing the number of hungry Americans and keeping huge quantities of waste out of our landfills and incinerators. Cafe Services, Inc. is proud of our contribution to these initiatives!

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