Trend to Watch: How Restaurants Are Fighting Food Waste

Chef preparing food at restaurant

Forty percent of all edible food goes to waste in the U.S., and recent studies show that a staggering 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted annually worldwide.

Food turns to garbage at all stages of production and consumption — from fields and storage facilities to our own homes. But with back-alley dumpsters filled with rotting food, the restaurant industry is one of the most recognizable areas of food waste, drawing increasing attention from both advocacy groups and average diners.

According to a 2005 University of Arizona study (PDF), nearly 135 million pounds of food is wasted at American fast food and full-service restaurants every day. On average, a single restaurant can produce 75,000 pounds of garbage annually.

The Food Waste Reduction Alliance, a partnership between the National Restaurant Association (NRA), Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute, is seeking to shrink restaurant waste totals through efficient food donations, better use of product and more widespread composting.

About 13 percent of restaurants already participate in composting programs, according to the NRA, but many eateries are taking things a step further.

Darden Restaurants, which includes popular eateries such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster, set a long-term goal of zero waste in its latest sustainability report (downloadable as a PDF). Meanwhile, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver recently opened a pop-up restaurant in London’s theater district that enforces a strict zero-waste policy, and sandwich chain Hannah’s Bretzel is making significant steps toward zero-waste at its four downtown Chicago locations.

In a recent post on Triple Pundit, Jacquelyn Ottman, founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting Inc., the firm behind, asserts that restaurants that can proactively address diners’ needs concerning waste have “particular opportunities to enhance revenues, profits and image.”

Ottman points to surveys conducted by her firm that show environmentally preferable options would help make diners “feel better” about their restaurant choices.

So, what do you think? Are you more likely to eat at a restaurant with environmentally friendly practices? Tell us about it in the comments.

Feature image courtesy Thomas Hawk

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Mary Mazzoni
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  1. I would hope at some point in time all restaurants will take some approach to this large problem since there are tremendous benefits to doing so.

  2. Restaraunts need to advertise their environmentally friendly practices! I would for sure eat at a restaurant that took the initiative to dispose of their waste properly, the problem is 1. not many do 2. if they do, I’ve never heard about it

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