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What the heck is zero food waste?

July 8, 2014

By Andrew Shakman

Zero waste is a term that’s popping up across the industry.

Jamie Oliver made headlines when he opened a zero-waste restaurant in London in the spring of 2013. And Hannah’s Bretzel, a small sandwich chain, has set out to achieve zero waste at all four of its locations in Chicago. Ecco in Atlanta, part of the NRA’s Zero Waste Zones program, does not use a dumpster.

So is this all a fad or is zero waste the way of the future for restaurants around the globe? And what does zero waste really mean?

Zero means zero
First, let’s start with the definition. The Zero Waste International Alliance describes a zero-waste success indicator as a “business that achieves over 90 percent diversion of waste from landfills.” While that amount of diversion is extremely commendable, I believe it’s important the definition of zero remains unscathed. It’s a lofty goal for sure, but sometimes the difficulty of the challenge is an important part of the journey.

Restaurants across the country increasingly are focused on buying local and organic foods, re-inventing packaging and examining energy efficiency. All of those are great, but you also must make sure not to overlook food waste—the “elephant in the kitchen.” Food waste makes up about half of a restaurant’s waste stream. At our company, we estimate that between four and 10 percent of the food a restaurant purchases is thrown out in the kitchen as pre-consumer food waste.

Consumers care and so should you!
You may ask if focusing on zero waste is worth it. The answer is a resounding yes! Not only will it help your business thrive in terms of cost savings, but research also shows customers increasingly choose where they eat out based on how sustainable the restaurant is. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast, 58 percent of consumers said they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on its eco-friendly practices.

Where to start
Don’t go straight to composting or other waste diversion strategies. Examine your food waste first. Without question, composting and landfill diversion are important, but I believe it is important that restaurants look closer at the problem and ask how much food waste could be prevented? Implement electronic or paper waste sheets to understand what’s being thrown away and why. Conduct periodic customer waste audits to assess menus and portion sizes. Look for the root cause before rushing to apply the fix.

Andrew Shakman is the founder, president and CEO of LeanPath, a technology company providing food waste tracking systems to the restaurant, foodservice and hospitality industry.


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