Our Take

Musings on the Foodservice Industry

Food Waste Impacts Environment in Multiple Ways

We all have friends who disdain leftovers. They just throw out unfinished meals at home and send back their uneaten food at restaurants. It makes me wonder why they have a microwave or the cabinet of Tupperware in their homes?

According to a 2005 study at the University of Arizona, it’s the leftover food in restaurants that is the primary source food waste in America. The study estimates food waste as a percentage of the total food used is 9.55% in fast food establishments and 3.11% in full service restaurants in the United States. The sources of food waste in restaurants vary greatly, but, on average, a restaurant can produce 150,000 lbs. of garbage per year.

All of us who dine out have thought through the pros and cons of doggy-bagging leftovers, and share the guilty feeling of asking the waiter to take away the extra food, knowing it’s destined for the dumpster.

Excess Serving Sizes

Post-consumer plate waste – the food neither eaten nor boxed up for home – is obviously a unique consumer food wastepreference. American culture today revolves around getting more for less money, and food is no exception to this rule. This can lead to wasteful foodservice practices in the effort to entice customers with large, or “family style” portions. Post-consumer food cannot be donated to food banks because of health regulations, so plate waste is always thrown away if it is not doggy-bagged or composted.

Wasteful Fast Food

Food waste at fast food restaurants usually varies depending on the type and size of the chain. Larger chains tend to have lower food waste rates ranging from 5%-7%, while smaller, local chains can have loss rates as high as 30-40%. One reason for these food losses is the core fast food industry idea of “Just-in-Time Delivery.”

This method, combined with the use of regional warehouses instead of local suppliers, has led to less storage facilities in stores. As a result, managers must anticipate changing consumer demand – and in order to be sure the restaurant is never out of an item – they  tend to order more food than the storage space can contain. This leads to high amounts of food waste, especially of perishable foods, which become very costly for the chain.

It’s Time to Act

Consumers can play a significant role in reducing food waste in restaurants.  Suggestions include:

  • Take home any leftover food you do not eat – and make sure to eat it or feed it to your pet.
  • Use smaller plates at buffets and/or don’t pile on – there’s no penalty for going back for seconds.
  • Encourage your local restaurant to sell half portions of food if their serving size is too big. They can get a premium for a half-size, so the restaurant wins too.
  • Encourage your local restaurant to buy compostable plates and hingeware for carry out. Instead of filling the landfill, compost is the alternative that gives back to the community.

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