Waste reduction in your restaurant facility.
By Matthew Hollis
Every year I’m astounded at how much waste a single guest at a restaurant facility generates. As our economy has grown, so has our addiction to consumables and convenience. This doesn’t account for any of the back-of-house waste generated via the logistics of all of your suppliers. When thinking about your commercial kitchen, it’s not uncommon to receive 2 to 3 truck loads of product a week. By the time this product is unpacked, prepped and ready to eat there is a significant amount of waste that’s been generated. This begs the question: “Is it possible to get to zero waste?” or “How does one even begin to understand what it takes to reduce waste?” These are questions every restaurant facility manager should be contemplating. To aid in your journey to waste nothing, we’ve prepared a few best practices.
As with all programs you won’t know how successful it is unless you can measure that success. Therefore, the first step in any waste reduction program is to conduct a waste audit. Take the time to watch your kitchen staff to see what they’re discarding. Keeping a chart or tally can certainly help as you work to identify areas of opportunity. During this waste audit your goal is really to find out what it is that you’re throwing away. Another key takeaway is how much of each of those commodities you’re throwing away as well. The Environmental Protection Agency provides average weights for thousands of materials that should help you arrive at how many pounds (or tons) of material you’re generating. At the end of the exercise you should try to have your waste categorized into Organics, Recyclables and Landfill. From here you should look to create a tracking program that you can reference back to on a regular basis in order to measure the success of the various program adjustments that you’ll put into place.
The single best way to waste nothing is to reduce the amount of waste created in the first place. While it sounds simple, this is a lot easier said than done. However, you can start by monitoring what is being thrown away and why. Perhaps your typical Tuesday crowd doesn’t care for your green beans and you end up throwing away several pounds of green beans every Tuesday. Create a waste log and have your employees write down what they’re throwing away (green beans) and the reason why (overproduction). After a few weeks you’ll hopefully be able to discover some trends and can start making program adjustments to reduce waste like making fewer green beans on Tuesdays. While it sounds like a simple concept, this can actually be quite complex given the size and scope of menus across various restaurant facilities. Another example of source reduction is to start working with your suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging they provide to you. Perhaps you can start working with them to identify key things like boxes and pallets that are routinely being left at your facility. With that knowledge in hand you can work with them to backhaul the pallets to their facility and possibly start using reusable totes to package your goods rather than cardboard boxes.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a second to mention this option. There are typically a lot of food items generated in a commercial kitchen that could be donated to those who are less fortunate. Forging a partnership with area shelters or food banks can be of great benefit in this case in that you can donate any good, unused food to these organizations. Through this donation process you’re able to capitalize on a tax benefit while also enjoying the cost savings in your disposal bill. This does require a strong partnership with your local charitable organization as well as a thought out and organized process in the back-of-house to work smoothly.
You’d be amazed at what you can actually recycle! There are hundreds of technological advancements made every year in the solid waste industry allowing us to recycle even more commodities. This is probably one of the simplest, easiest ways to work toward waste reduction. Start by developing a program for your cardboard boxes working with staff to separate, flatten and stack them. If you have a separate recycling dumpster, you can use that for the cardboard. Depending on how much you generate, you may want to explore a mini baler in which you could (not always) get paid for your cardboard. While cardboard collection services aren’t free, they’re typically always cheaper than trash because of the value of the commodity.
With that underway, you can then turn to a plastics recycling program. Numerous communities throughout the United States offer a comingled recycling service. This means that you can mix cardboard, paper, plastic, glass (depending on area) and metals all in the same bin. The service provider then takes it to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where it’s sorted and recycled accordingly. Where these services are available, they offer the best value in starting a recycling program and are typically cheaper than trash.
Measure, Adjust, Repeat
Achieving zero waste or working toward any waste reduction goal takes patience. It’s important to know that this won’t happen overnight. The key is to measure the results of the changes you’ve made and work toward incremental additional changes to help make a bottom line impact. If you’re not seeing the results you’re after, then adjust and measure again until you find a happy medium. There are several tools available to you including software platforms, consultants, various equipment, etc., that can also be of assistance. Never forget that your waste and recycling service provider likely has some free services to help you reduce waste and increase recycling as well. They should be seen as a valued partner. Once implemented you should not only be able to inform your customers about the impact you’re having for the environment, but you should also be enjoying savings results to the bottom line.
— Matthew S. Hollis is the co-founder and president of Elytus Ltd., a Columbus, Ohio-based industry leader in food waste sustainability technology. Founded in 2007, Elytus partners with brands such as Whole Foods, Red Robin, Ted’s Montana Grill, Cinemark Theaters and others to reduce waste. Hollis also spearheaded the renovations of Elytus’ headquarters into a 100% zero-waste facility. For more information, visit www.elytus.com.