How to Reduce Restaurant Food Waste

Our landfills are straining at the seams and we throw away more and more stuff every year. From appliances and electronics to household mail and toxic chemicals, humans are wasteful creatures. Some things have to be thrown away but many can find new homes or a new purpose. I was floored when I started researching restaurant food waste facts. Why are we are throwing away perfectly good food?

To throw away something broken is one thing but good food should never be wasted, especially given the staggering number of hungry people we have in this country.

dishes and leftover food on restaurant table with text overlay 'restaurant food waste facts'

How many times have you gone to a restaurant for dinner and been delivered a plate that was overflowing with food? While some people may be able to eat their own weight in steak and French fries in one sitting, most people are going to leave a significant amount of food on their plate. Many of those will choose not to bring home their leftovers.

Back in the kitchen, chefs are throwing out food left and right…from your plate and from their pantry and refrigerators. The amount of food that restaurants throw away every day is staggering. The food waste in this country is a staggering problem and one that you can help solve. I am going to share a few restaurant food waste facts with you and provide a few tips on how you can help solve this very real problem.

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upscale restaurant table with food, dishes and wine

How to Reduce Food Waste When Eating Out

Think About This:  The ‘average’ restaurant (and this is obviously from a wide range of sizes) disposes of more than 50 tons of organic waste every year. If that one restaurant was able to find an alternate way of disposing of or using this organic waste, they would be keeping 5 garbage truckloads of trash out of the landfill per year.

That is just ONE restaurant…imagine how much waste reduction would occur if every single restaurant were to stop throwing away their food waste!

Why do restaurants throw away all of this food waste instead of finding alternate uses for it? Because it’s cheaper and easier to toss it in the trash. What are some things that they COULD be doing with it? Here are a few ideas that restaurants in certain areas of the country are initiating:

Suggest these ideas to your local restaurants!

  1. Donate these materials to local farmers for use as animal feed. 
  2. Donate food that is still usable but nearing its expiration date to homeless shelters. Surplus food for the homeless is just an app away. Check out this food waste for the homeless website for more info.
  3. Donate organic food waste to organizations that will compost it.
  4. Consider offering meals of varying sizes to patrons. Those who prefer a smaller meal can request it at a lower price. This saves the patrons money and reduces the amount of waste thrown into the trash. Allow people of all ages to order off the kids’ menu for people with ‘kid-sized appetites’

bulldozer at the dump

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 Restaurant Food Waste Facts

the amount of wasted food is staggering!

There are LOTS of reasons for restaurants to look into programs like these. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects businesses from civil and criminal liability when donating food to non-profit organizations.

Restaurants would be able to reduce their garbage disposal costs by finding outside sources to take leftover foods. It is also a way to significantly improve the restaurant’s image in the eyes of the public. I would certainly eat at a restaurant more often if I knew they were working to reduce their environmental impact.

Make sure they let the public know about their great efforts! Put together an advertisement that discusses restaurant food waste facts and let patrons know what they are doing to help.

Most people assume that food waste can degrade in a landfill and it does but at a very low rate of  25 to 50 percent over 10 to 15 years. The rest of this food waste has been found to be almost completely intact even after many years of sitting in the ground.

Food waste is a major problem but there ARE things that can be done. As a patron, only order what you know you will eat and make sure to bring home leftovers. Encourage restaurants in your area to skip the Styrofoam or bring your own reusable container. Here are a few other ideas:

What can you do to reduce restaurant food waste?

  • Check out the Food Recovery and Waste Reduction Hierarchy put out by the EPA. If you are active on your town council or other civic organization, consider looking into starting a program in your area. There is a section in this guide on assistance programs available for financial help.

hamburger and fries in a basket with disposable paper

Reducing food waste in the restaurant business is not something many people care about. But considering how many people go to bed hungry every night, it makes me sick to think of perfectly good food heading to the landfills.

Some food that is not fit for human consumption still makes great compost. Vegetable scraps make great animal feed, which in turn saves the farmer money. I just keep hearing my dad’s voice in my head… “There is no reason to throw away perfectly good food!

I hope you take these restaurant food waste facts with you the next time you go out to eat and encourage your favorite eatery to pitch in to reduce food waste in this country!

Share these Restaurant Food Waste Facts with a local restaurant!

3 thoughts on “How to Reduce Restaurant Food Waste”

  1. Those are all such great tips! I have always wished restaurants would allow people to choose smaller portions for a lower cost, even the kid’s meals are enormous in many restaurants! We try to take everything home and eat it before it goes bad, but I hadn’t thought as much about what is being thrown out in the kitchen!

    There are non-profits who have used tip cards to take action on issues that relate to restaurant workers. I wonder if that could work here?

  2. I bring all my leftovers home if we go to a restaurant as well as anything that can be composted like orange peels or something. It s crazy the amount of waste from restaurants. So sad. And they wonder why people dumpster dive?!

  3. I hate this!!! There are so many homes that could use this. There are a lot of mentally ill people in homes and halfway houses who have nothing and wouldn’t sue anyone. Safeway throws stuff out too! I was so surprised to hear this!! People starving and this is what they do! What about the food banks? Eat at your own risk. There is no difference in this food than our food that has been in the fridge for a couple of days. Who is running our country anyway?


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