Last updated on 6/16/2015
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. Overall, the waste that most restaurants send to the landfill is up to 70% food scraps or organic material. 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?
The process of breaking down food scraps and other organic waste like grass clippings and certain paper and cardboard items is called composting. Using heat, moisture, agitation, air-flow and sometimes even earthworms (this is called vermicomposting), all of the waste that looks so unappetizing when it leaves your facility becomes rich, dark soil that can help fertilize and enrich the land for local farmers and gardeners. You could even use the compost yourself if your establishment has an herb garden or landscaped patio.
Some cities require that restaurants compost their waste. San Francisco and Seattle, for instance, require that restaurants separate out organic food scraps to be taken to special composting facilities. In some areas you will see special bins that are specifically for this type of organic waste.
There are many reasons behind this trend, including recognition of the enormous percentage of a city's total waste that is actually food waste. In an average restaurant, organic waste makes up more than half of the overall waste produced by the business. Therefore, when restaurateurs compost food waste, they reduce the total amount they contribute to local landfills by 50%. When less waste is sent to landfills, it then reduces the amount of toxic greenhouse gases, like methane and carbon dioxide, emitted.
Once the compost has been broken down, it is used by local farmers, gardeners, and sometimes even local municipalities to provide delicious, healthy, nutrient rich foods for your restaurant. When you compost, you are effectively helping the local suppliers who later sell you the ingredients you need to stay in business.
If more than half of your restaurant or cafè's waste is now being composted, that means that you can reduce the number of trash pickups your establishment requires and even the size of your trash receptacles. When those things are reduced, so is the cost of waste removal. When you pay your waste removal company less, it means more money in your pocket, leading to more available funding for updates to your business and increased profits.
Providing a necessary commodity for your local farmers also has its perks in that you will reap the benefits of their harvest. Becoming a mainstay in your community and being known for supporting local growers by composting and using locally grown foods can help to strengthen your business over time, boosting your reputation as a conscientious company.
What Can Be Composted?
Most food scraps and paper products can be composted in a commercial composting 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.
- Fruit and vegetable waste
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Paper napkins
- Grass and yard clippings
- Wood ashes
What Can't Be Composted?
- Diseased plants
- Dairy products
- Coal or charcoal ashes
- Meat / bones
- Oil / fat / grease
- Any toxic materials
Becoming More Compost Friendly
If your establishment is looking to become more environmentally-minded, consider making even more of your restaurant waste compostable. By using biodegradable plates, compostable take-out containers, and compostable trash can liners instead of non-compostable bags and containers, you can further lower the amount of waste your restaurant contributes to the local landfill and increase your composting potential. Many manufacturers today are making more products that are biodegradable or compostable, so choosing to switch may not be as difficult or costly as you think.
How Can I Get Started?
There are many considerations before you start to compost, but once you have made the decision to start composting your organic waste rather than sending it to the landfill these are the steps you'll need to take.
- Assess your waste management processes. How much organic waste do you throw away each week? How much inorganic waste would still need to go to a landfill even if you started composting? What are your recycling protocols? Once you have answered these questions and determined what you are already doing, you can decide what changes to make.
- Talk to your waste management company. If you choose to go with a haul away composting option, contact your current waste management company and see if they have an option for compost hauling, especially if you are locked into a contract with your trash service. If they do not, and if you don't have a contract, some other resources for finding a compost hauling service include the local yellow pages, business associations, and your municipal government.
- Consider onsite composting versus haul away composting. Each has its benefits. Onsite composting gives you control of what goes into your compost and where your compost goes after you have finished with it. However, there may be health code restrictions in your area that prohibit or regulate onsite composting at restaurants so you'll want to check with your local health inspector first. Also, space comes at a premium on a commercial property, so finding the space for an onsite composting bin or compost pile can be difficult. Haul away options can vary from dedicated compost haulers and compost facilities to general waste management companies who offer compost hauling services. Though you have less control over the compost in these instances and you are still paying someone to take the waste to a composting facility, there are benefits in that composting with a haul away contractor takes less time and effort and may still cost less than general waste hauling. Also, check with your local government to see if they offer any assistance to businesses that are looking to start composting.
- Train your staff. When you start composting, it's a sure bet that many of your employees will not know what should go in the compost bins and what shouldn't. Taking the time to make all of your employees, from the chef to the bus boys, aware of what should go in the compost bins and what should go into the dumpster will save you headaches down the road and ensure that your business reaps the most benefits from composting. Also, the busyness of a commercial kitchen can be a deterrent to conscientious composting so you will want to have multiple compost bins or dedicated trash receptacles located in prime areas to make it as quick and easy as possible for your employees to responsibly dispose of organic waste.
If you wish to learn more about composting, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers many great resources including explanations of types of composting, laws, and ordinances that will help you get your restaurant composting program started off smoothly.