Save Food, Save Money, Prevent PollutionJune 17, 2014
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has produced a toolkit to help the food service industry improve waste reduction practices. The toolkit, “Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants,” provides a number of useful tips and resources that any restaurant, cafeteria, or caterer can follow. As the EPA illustrates in the guide, reducing waste doesn’t merely save food for better uses. Reducing waste can save money and prevent pollution at every turn of our food’s lifecycle – from farm to table to landfill.
Jonathan Bloom, in American Wasteland, suggests that food waste costs the commercial food industry about 100 billion dollars annually. Wasted food means wasted costs in purchasing, labor, energy, and transportation. These monetary costs link to environmental costs. The EPA states that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single component of municipal solid waste. In landfills, food rots anaerobically and releases methane, a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent in its greenhouse warming effects than CO2. Additionally, the lifecycle of our nation’s food industry – including food’s growth, manufacturing, transport, sale, and disposal – accounts for about 13% of GHG emissions in the U.S. A few of these lifecycle processes also require large amounts of increasingly valuable water.
The toolkit poses that the first step to reducing waste is to measure and track discarded food and packaging. It points to a variety of auditing methods, including the EPA’s own “Food and Packaging Waste Prevention Tool,” which tracks waste from kitchens, packaging, and plates to identify the amounts and types of food wasted, the primary causes for the waste, and the patterns of waste generation (through graphs and data summaries). Identifying the culprits of waste allows businesses to more efficiently purchase, store, and sell food.
The guide also emphasizes a number of source reduction tactics that can save money and reduce the lifecycle impacts of food and packaging. Strategies include: smarter purchasing, re-use of food, revising the menu, and educating customers about their individual contributions to food waste. The guide lists resources can aid these strategies, such as: organizations that facilitate food donations; and websites that help food services find local composters or anaerobic digesters.
For those industries looking to cut down on packaging waste, the guide suggests a few proven bulk purchasing strategies and ways to incentivize vendors or customers to contribute less packaging or container waste. As with eliminating food waste, eliminating packaging waste can both conserve energy and reduce harmful GHG emissions.
For those organizations interested in learning more about the EPA’s waste reduction resources, check out these additional resources below:
- EPA’s Guide: Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants
- EPA’s Excel audit tool – to help restaurants, grocers, caterers, and other commercial kitchens save money and reduce their environmental impact by measuring discarded food and packaging.
- The Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) – a free program for any organization which prepares, sells or serves food. Participants reduce wasted food through source reduction, donation and recycling, saving money, helping communities and protecting the environment. The program shares tools, webinars and other useful information on tracking and reducing wasted food and gives annual awards.
- More EPA resources: http://www.epa.gov/foodrecovery/tools/index.htm.