6 Tips To Reduce Landfill Waste At Restaurants & Food Service Businesses

6 Tips To Reduce Landfill Waste At Restaurants & Food Service Businesses


Our readers are often surprised to hear that the average restaurant produces 100,000 pounds of waste materials per year. That's a lot of waste to have to deal with! If you're interested in figuring out the best approach for your unique business, we put together some tools and strategies that our customers in the Restaurant / Food Service industry have used to boost their waste diversion rates and lower costs. Continue reading to learn more!


Tip #1: Complete A Waste Audit

Conducting a waste audit will result in an accurate picture of what waste generation looks like at your business, and help identify opportunities to recycle more and reduce the volume of waste your sending to landfill. According to The Green Restaurant Association, close to 95% of waste generated at restaurants is recyclable or compostable. The most common recyclables include cardboard boxes, paper bags, aluminum and steel cans, plastic and glass beverage containers, and food waste. Tim Horton's conducts annual waste audits to understand where they can reduce waste and recycle more. Based on a 2012 audit, a standard Tim Horton's restaurant found that 91% of their waste was recyclable. Their waste breakdown (by weight and type of material) is as follows:


Tip #2: Work On Reducing Food Waste

Developing a plan for reducing food waste can pay off in a big way for owners / managers of food service businesses. According to The Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste's Restaurant Food Waste Action guide, "The U.S. restaurant sector generates 11.4 million tons of food waste annually (7.3 million tons from full-service restaurants and 4.1 million tons from limited-service restaurants), the full cost of which is more than $25 billion." Finding ways to reduce food waste has been a top priority of most food establishments. Many restaurants and food service businesses we work with have made impacts on their food waste volumes by redesigning menus, adjusting portion sizes, changing plate sizes, and donating leftovers to local community organizations.

Tip #3: start composting

Composting is a no-brainer for restaurants and food service businesses because it diverts large volumes of organic waste from landfill. It also creates healthier soil, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and positively impacts the environment. Composting also leads to reduced hauling costs because food waste is heavy and your waste haulers take advantage of that. General compostable materials include: food scraps, fruits & vegetables, coffee grinds, compostable silverware and plates, etc. Learn more about our composting programs here.

Tip #4: Set Up An Effective Collection System

 Using a standardized collection system will make it easier for your staff and guests to recycle while also ensuring your landfill waste & recyclables end up in the appropriate containers.  We recommend staging your receptacles in high-traffic areas like the kitchen, storage space, or in the main restaurant. To eliminate contamination, sort your materials using separate containers to capture each stream of recyclables (commingled, paper, cardboard & compost). The key to success is clearly marked bins with signage to match the color of the stream so guests and staff know exactly what to recycle.

Tip #5: Make Smarter Purchasing Decisions

It's also very important to monitor and update your purchasing throughout the year. Excess waste can come from over-stock, spoiled foods, leftovers, packaging, and much more. Your waste audit will be a helpful tool for understanding the sources of waste that can be reduced or cut-out. Many restaurants and food services are able to reduce waste by purchasing items with a long shelf-life in bulk, using refillable condiment dispensers instead of single-use packets, and by using reusable take-out containers instead of single-use ones. Controlling what is coming into your food establishment will support your goals to improve landfill diversion and reduce costs. If you're really passionate about this, go a step further by asking your suppliers to deliver your goods in reusable or recyclable containers.

Tip #6: Design or use Environmentally-Friendly Packaging

According to the EPA, packaging and containers account for 23% of the municipal solid waste stream in the United States, totaling about 39 million tons per year. Whether your food service designs packaging or purchases it, do so with the environment in mind. Environmentally-friendly packaging and buying in bulk can reduce unnecessary waste and negative environmental impacts. Also, simply asking customers if they need carry-out bags before providing them one can go a long way in reducing waste.

 Sustainability On The Menu


In 2015, Chipotle announced their goal to divert half of all its restaurant waste from landfills by 2020. The restaurant increased its diversion by 9% in 2017 alone by implementing best practices including: training restaurant staff to minimize food waste during the preparation process and reduce packaging, rightsizing services and food preparations to match the needs of each restaurant, and conducting audits to predict and manage its diversion rate. 


According to the EPA's Think Outside the Box: Think Reusable, Ghirardelli Chocolate replaced cardboard packaging with plastic reusable totes. As a result, the company has saved almost $2 million in packaging costs and prevented almost 400 tons of cardboard generation and significant removal costs each year.

For many food establishments, efficiently managing the large quantities of waste generated can be challenging, but by spending some time thinking about your approach to waste reduction and recycling, it's not all that hard for your business to thrive. Take a look at our industry-best services for restaurants and food service businesses. Let us know what your business is doing to recycle, compost, and reduce waste below! Thank you, as always, for reading!


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