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Restaurant Composting

Restaurant Composting

Do you want your restaurant to become more environmentally friendly or more involved with the local community? Even if you just want to give your establishment's marketing plan a boost, restaurant composting might be a great solution. According to the EPA, 60-80% of garbage produced by restaurants was food waste. By composting you can reduce your environmental impact by keeping waste out of the landfill, lower your waste hauling and disposal costs, and find a whole new way to connect with the people in your community!

What is Composting?

Composting is the process of breaking down food scraps and other organic waste like grass clippings and certain paper and cardboard items using heat, moisture, agitation, air-flow and sometimes even earthworms (a process known as vermicomposting). It's hard to imagine, but all of the organic waste that looks unappetizing when it leaves your restaurant can actually be turned into rich, dark soil through the process of composting. This soil can then be used to fertilize and enrich the land for local farmers and gardeners. Depending on the regulations in your area, you could even use the compost yourself for an herb garden or landscaped patio at your establishment.

Benefits of Composting

According to a restaurant food waste study conducted by the Business for Social Responsibility, about 84% of food waste ends up being thrown in the trash. Not only does composting prevent this percentage from growing, but it also has environmental benefits. The biggest environmental benefit is the absence of synthetic chemical fertilizers in compost. When these chemicals are used in soil to grow fruits and veggies, we end up ingesting them. Synthetic fertilizers also run off during rainstorms and affect local wildlife. Using compost in place of chemical fertilizers yields healthier produce and has a less negative effect on the environment.

Composting can also have economic benefits. With most of your business’s waste being composted, you can reduce the number of trash pickups your establishment requires and therefore lower your waste removal bill. Also, if your restaurant grows its own produce, then you can use your compost instead of purchasing expensive fertilizer.

How Does Composting Work?

For composting to be successful, the process depends on four main components: materials, temperature, moisture, and air circulation.


Materials

  • Successful composting relies on an equal mix of both nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials.
  • Nitrogen-rich materials are items like coffee grounds, grass clippings, and food scraps.
  • Carbon-rich materials include dead leaves, newspaper and un-dyed paper.

Temperature

  • Composting piles need to stay warm so that heat-loving microbes can properly break down the materials.
  • The typical compost pile temperature ranges from 100-140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Compost piles should be turned or mixed every three or four days so the materials can get into the warm center.

Moisture

  • For microbes to break down everything in the compost pile, the materials need to constantly have the moisture level of a damp sponge.
  • There needs to be a balance in moisture levels as not enough will prevent microbes from breaking down the materials, and too much will slow down the decomposition.

Air Circulation

  • Without air circulation, composting materials will not properly break down.
  • A lack of oxygen can also cause compost piles to release gases that smell similar to rotten eggs.
  • Composting bins contain ventilation holes, so oxygen can circulate amongst the materials.

What Can and Can't Be Composted?

Most food scraps and paper products can be composted in a commercial facility. The options are slightly more limited if you choose to compost on-site, but you will still dramatically reduce the amount that you send to a landfill every day. Check out the table below for a more detailed breakdown of what can and can't be composted:


Can Be Composted Can't Be Composted
Fruit and vegetable waste Diseased Plants
Coffee grounds and filters Dairy products
Paper napkins Coal or charcoal ashes
Cardboard Meat and bones
Newspaper Oil, fat, and grease
Yard clippings and wood ashes Any toxic material

How to Compost in Your Restaurant

There are many things to consider before you start composting. Follow the steps below to learn how to incorporate a composting program in your restaurant.

Step 1: Determine if You Will Compost On-Site or Use a Haul Away Service

Using a Haul Away Service

If you choose to compost through a haul away service, then you should contact your current waste management company and see if they offer this option, especially if you are currently locked into a contract with them. Should they not have a haul away option, you can use websites like Find a Composter to locate a facility near you. Once you’ve found a composting facility that is a good fit for your restaurant, talk to them about their involvement with the process. It’s important to find out if they pick up your compost waste and what they do with the waste after it’s gone through the composting process. If you choose to hire a haul away service, you'll need to have a separate bin in your restaurant for the organic waste that will eventually be composted.

Composting On Your Own

On-site composting gives you control of what goes into your compost pile and where the soil goes after it’s done going through the composting process. However, there may be health code restrictions in your area that prohibit or regulate on-site composting, so it’s important to check with your health inspector. Since space comes at a premium on a commercial property, you will also need to find a safe place for an on-site composting bin or pile that is protected from harsh weather.

What You'll Need for On-Site Composting

  • A container to hold your materials. It can even be an old trash can, you just need to make sure that you have a fitted lid with ventilation holes.
  • A small bag of soil or starter compost. You’ll also want to add items like fallen leaves and grass clippings. If you have a landscaping service, ask them if they can collect these items as they are useful materials to have in your compost.
  • A shovel or other tool to rotate your compost materials.

Composting Steps

1. Choose a location for your compost bin. You’ll want to pick an area that can be easily accessed by your employees during busy shifts. However, you should keep in mind that there’s a chance your compost could create undesirable odors if it is not turned often enough or not receiving enough oxygen.

2. Add the soil to your compost bin. It doesn’t have to fill the whole container, but you’ll want to have the bottom part of your bin filled. If you have extra soil, then feel free to add some between layers of your compost materials.

3. Turn your compost pile every couple of weeks to move the materials around to the center. You’ll also want to make sure that your compost materials stay moist, like a wrung out sponge.

4. It can take anywhere from a few months to a year for your compost to become usable. To know when your compost is ready, it should be pretty dark in color, almost black, and it should also have a crumbly texture with an earthy smell.

Step 2: Educate and Train Your Staff

A composting program in your restaurant will be useless if your employees don’t understand or care about it. Taking the time to make all of your employees, from cooks to bus boys, aware of what should go in the compost and recycling bins and what should into the dumpster will help to ensure that your business reaps the benefits of composting. Some composting facilities will even come to your restaurant to help train your staff on the process. Additionally, the busyness of a commercial kitchen can be a deterrent to conscientious composting, so you’ll want to have multiple compost bins located in prime areas throughout your business. This will make it quick and easy for your employees to responsibly dispose of organic waste.

Step 3: Make Signs in Your Back-of-House Area

Making signs and posting them around your kitchen and other employee areas will help remind your staff to keep up with the composting program. If you run an establishment where guests throw away their own food, then you’ll want to hang signs around those trash areas so that they know what should be disposed of in the composting bin.

Step 4: Use More Eco-Friendly Materials

By using biodegradable plates, compostable take-out containers and trash can liners instead of non-compostable bags and containers, you can further reduce the amount of waste your restaurant contributes to the local landfill. Using these products can also help to spread the message to your guests that you are serious about making more environmentally-friendly efforts.

Step 5: Announce Your Efforts

Make an announcement to your local community about your composting program. Communicating with your community about your composting efforts can help you gain their support and possibly even their business. You could even donate your finished compost to a local park or other public area, however this is something you would need to talk about with your composting facility and local planning council.


Composting in your restaurant provides an effective way to manage food waste while making a positive contribution to a sustainable environment. Now that you know the steps involved, you can begin implementing a composting program in your restaurant.

Related Resources

Restaurant Recycling

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