You've conducted the waste audit that we discussed in part I of this blog series. You took a look at your findings, and used part II to cut back on the amount of food your business throws out. Though you may have come up with some great waste reduction ideas, you probably still have food that can't be used in your restaurant each day, and you're probably wondering what you can do with it. This is where part III of this blog comes in - how to find an environmentally friendly use for the stuff that waste reduction alone can't take care of, and how to potentially save you a few bucks in the process.
First off, you might consider donating items that are still safe for consumption, but for one reason or another can't be used, to a local food bank; these places will often come right to your establishment to pick up excess food at no cost to you - so you get rid of what you can't use in many cases for free, and you simultaneously help people in your community. Another added benefit to donating is that you may qualify for additional tax deductions, since you're donating food to a charity.
Additionally, many local farmers will provide low cost or free pick up for food scraps, which can be fed to hogs or other animals. If you go this route, you will want to make sure you are following any local, state, or federal regulations on what can / can't be used for animal feed, but it presents another chance to help out the local economy while cutting back on your own food waste at the same time. The EPA offers a guide covering some additional ways to do this.
In the end, though, some food is just not destined for consumption…which is where alternative disposal methods, like composting, come in.
If you are fortunate enough to have the space, you can compost on site, producing rich soil that you can either sell for a profit, or keep for your own use - make an onsite garden and grow all the ingredients you need for the special sauce or house salad! Also check out parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of our composting blog for some ideas on how to get started. One downside to composting, however, is that it isn't particularly conducive to meat products and similar items but some really innovative practices like bokashi are gaining ground and allow you to compost a wider range of products without the odors, pests, and other hazards you might normally expect.
And if you don't have the space to run your own composting program, finding a composter to take your scraps can still be more a cost effective alternative to the traditional disposal methods, and essentially all you have to do is separate out compost-worthy material from the regular "garbage". Composting centers are still gaining ground and therefore not as widespread as traditional landfills, but resources like findacomposter.com make it easy to find a site near you.
There can be many benefits to using alternative waste disposal methods, both environmentally and financially. However, not every method will be a good fit for every restaurant and let's face it, if it doesn't make good business sense, it's not worth doing. Luckily, the EPA offers this handy food waste management cost calculator, which is a good way to give you an idea of how cost effective some of the above methods can be, and which ones could be a good fit for your business.