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Cents and sensibility: How to save on trash disposal

August 21, 2014

By Erik Makinson

Should operators collaborate on sustainable waste disposal?
It is a team sport. If a single restaurateur tries to go it alone, sustainability can be expensive and time consuming. By collaborating with other operators, restaurateurs can leverage efficiencies of scale to drive down cost. We’ve seen multiple neighborhood restaurants come together and commit to diverting food waste, which enables a compost hauler to justify a particular route. We’ve also seen franchisees of chains utilize compostable foodservice ware, ensuring that their buying cooperative has sufficient scale to obtain competitive pricing.

What are the biggest costs or expenses associated with waste disposal?
The number one cost of waste disposal is buying the goods that eventually end up in your waste stream. For example, take an 8-inch, round head of lettuce. If that head of lettuce wilted before you could use it and you threw it in the garbage whole, the volume that the head of lettuce would displace in the trash would be about 268 cubic inches. If you were paying the equivalent of $8 per cubic yard for waste disposal, the relative cost impact would be less than 5 cents. However, that same head of lettuce might have cost $1.50 to purchase originally, or 30 times the cost of disposal! If restaurateurs could avoid creating waste by focusing on their purchasing practices and prep and portion control, the wins would be far greater than managing the waste on the back end.

Are there advantages to recycling and composting waste?
There are wins to be realized through recycling and composting. In general, we’ve found that single-stream recycling costs roughly half the price of landfill disposal and composting costs about three-quarters of the price, though those figures vary widely around the country.

How much can a typical waste disposal program cost?
Across our portfolio, the average business pays about $430 per site per month.
When we talk about tipping fees   the cost that the waste hauler pays to dump material at a disposal facility   varies dramatically throughout the United States. Some communities pay between $20 and $30 per ton to dump at their local municipal landfill while others pay up to $150 per ton to load material onto train cars destined for mega-landfills several states away. It is only when waste is hauled in a compactor or roll-off bin that businesses typically see tipping fees itemized on their bills. If the waste is collected in a dumpster or wheeled cart, the tipping charges are typically embedded into the monthly fixed fee based on the size of the bin and how often it’s collected.

How can those fees be reduced?
Businesses can reduce their cost by following these three strategies:

1. Procurement: In about 80 percent of the country, businesses can select their own waste hauler. Within those areas, it’s important that the businesses obtain multiple quotes for their hauling services and select a vendor based on both price and service quality. We’ve seen pricing for the exact same service, at the exact same site, vary up to 100 percent.
2. Optimization: Don’t pay for more service than you need. Optimize your container size and pick-up frequency to the volume of waste actually generated. By doing this, restaurants can ensure they’re not paying for half-empty dumpsters to be removed.
3. Zero Waste: Waste disposal isn’t expensive if you don’t have any. By focusing on the good old 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, restaurants can achieve savings regardless of whether hauling prices increase in future.

More Resources

Learn more on the Learn: Reduce Waste & Recycle webpage.

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