We might not have to conserve food so as to send meals to troops overseas, but the message is simply as important today — the US throws away over the other country within the world, with nearly 80 billion pounds of food waste per annum, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the country’s entire food supply. Seventy-five years after the second war, the ideals of the wartime thriftiness are largely forgotten; waste has skyrocketed in a world where leftovers are too often left behind, food scraps are tossed, and composting isn’t a part of the method.
The cost of waste is inconceivable and irreversible: wasting food wastes money, together with the water and energy it took to provide that food. Agriculture accounts for nine percent of greenhouse emission emissions within the US, and people’s climate-impacting gases are even more senseless when food is wasted. In step with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), US waste matter is to blame for the equivalent of the emissions of 37 million, or one in seven, cars. At a time when one in four Americans struggle with food insecurity and therefore the impacts of global climate change are worsening, this is often not the food we will afford to waste.
The State of garbage in Restaurants
Traditional waste material reduction strategies have focused on the household level, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of national garbage. But the food industry has huge potential for savings, with over a million restaurant locations, employing 10 percent of the US workforce and earning a projected four percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
All that waste is expensive: consistent with the USDA, the restaurant industry loses $162 billion annually because of wasted food. A number of the numerous reasons for this waste: are overproduction, lack of awareness, unsuccessful employee training, improper food storage; and lack of access to composting facilities. We’re visiting to ensure the waste stream is ready and has clear signage. We’re visiting to confirm there’s cupboard space for food donations daily. We’ll put during a daily tracking form for waste.”
While implementing new systems is tricky, especially within the chaotic world of restaurants, the cost-to-benefit ratio should be a convincing reason to form a change: for each dollar spent on waste matter reduction, restaurants will see a median of $8 of savings. It helps that customers care about the difficulty and are primed to spend more at an institution that responsibly manages waste products: A study by Unilever showed that 72 percent of diners within the US care about how restaurants handle food waste, and 47 percent are willing to spend more at restaurants with an energetic food recovery program.
Reducing Waste within the Kitchen
Considering how serious the matter is, it’s not surprising that various legislative bodies, agencies, and organizations are all working to combat garbage within the restaurant industry. Six states — California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont — have passed laws restricting the quantity of waste material that may move to landfills, helping to form voluminous dollars in economic activity, many jobs, and drastic declines in refuse tonnage. And Vermont became the primary state to pass a Universal Recycling Law in 2012, essentially banning the disposal of waste matter, which led to a 40 percent increase in food donations within the state.
On a national level, the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency set a goal in 2015 to cut back waste material by half by 2030. Through programs just like their voluntary Food Recovery Challenge and resources from organizations like the NRDC, which give waste product action tools, restaurants can perform their own waste audits, track waste and promote waste product reduction to consumers. “We want to take care that restaurants have the tools to try and do well,” NY City’s former sanitation commissioner, Kathryn Garcia, told the NY Times in late 2019, referencing the city’s donation programs, waste material fairs, and food-waste challenges.