Food waste is a global problem that has significant economic, human, and planetary implications. In the US, around 84.3% of unused food in restaurants is thrown away while only 14% is recycled, and only 1.4% is donated. According to Green Restaurant Association, a restaurant can produce up to 25000-75000 pounds of food waste a year.
Globally, we waste one billion tons of food annually, according to UN Environment Programme (UNEP). In the US, around 40% of all food is wasted—with 66 billion pounds consisting of commercial leftover food waste. While in the UK, around 9.5 million tons of food waste are produced yearly, with 1.1 million tons (12%) coming from the hospitality and food service sector. In Australia, 7.6 million tons of food is wasted, costing their economy $36.6bn. These alarming statistics highlight the need for a combined effort to reduce food waste in restaurants through food recovery practices like recycling and food donation. In fact, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates that global food waste equates to $1.5tn in squandered potential value.
But the source of the problem is complex as food waste comes from many other sources: households (43%); grocery stores, restaurants, and food service companies (40%); farms (16%), and manufacturers (2%). Interestingly, as the amount of food waste increases yearly, so does the number of people suffering from food insecurity (reaching over 800 million). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average American consumer spends over $3000 on dining out annually—contributing to the astonishing amount of food wasted in restaurants. It’s also estimated that 17% of a diner’s meal is left uneaten and 55% of leftovers in restaurants are edible, according to Food Print. This costs the US restaurant industry over $162bn in food waste yearly.
Consumer expenditures, selected categories, 2018
Moreover, according to National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 21% of agricultural water resources and 19% of US croplands are wasted for every food that’s thrown away.
Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill
This problem is likely to get worse as the demand for food grows 1.5 to two times more in 2050 compared to 2005. But demand isn’t the only contributor, it’s also the businesses, households, and the restaurant and food service sector’s habit of disposing of produce for superficial reasons, throwing out food past or near its expiration date, and letting stored food decay. With over 300 million diverse people in the US, food waste is becoming an embarrassing problem that we all contribute to—regardless of status, age, and gender. But before we go further, let’s talk about the two main types of waste.
There are two categories of wasted food: food loss and food waste (FLW). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, FLW are hurting food security and nutrition and contribute largely to gas emissions, pollution, and degradation of the ecosystem. Let’s define what they mean below:
Food waste and food loss make up 21% of urban solid waste in the US. It’s also responsible for the increase in methane emissions—a strong greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. It’s clear that there are opportunities for improvements and that reducing food waste by 15% or more could potentially feed over 25 million Americans.
According to NRDC, the US produces the most food waste globally. Although most waste reduction strategies have focused on household waste, the restaurant industry has a huge potential for reducing costs. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) currently predicts the food service industry workforce to increase by 500,000 more jobs for total industry employment of 15.5. million this year.
A recent study on reducing food waste found restaurants waste 4% to 10% of the food they bought, and 30% to 40% of the food they serve to customers is never eaten. This results in a substantial loss for the restaurant industry, according to the United Nations Department of Agriculture (USDA). Overproduction, lack of awareness, improper employee training, improper food storage, and lack of access to composting facilities are some of the reasons for this waste.
Fortunately, 72% of US diners are also becoming increasingly aware of this issue and 47% are willing to spend more at sustainable restaurants with active food recovery and waste disposal programs, according to a Unilever study.
Many factors contribute to the amount of food waste in restaurants and below are the six reasons you need to know about.
Reducing restaurant food waste may seem like a daunting task but there are steps you can take to reduce food waste slowly but surely. Here are the four quick steps to follow to reduce waste at your fine dining, casual, or fast-food restaurant:
To conduct a food waste audit in your restaurant, ask relevant questions, set goals, decide on the frequency and amount of data to collect, select suitable dates, assign champions, conduct the audit without notifying staff, and adopt integrated and purchase-to-pay management solutions.
It will surely take some time to close the gap between the amount of food waste and the food waste programs currently in place by various businesses. Moreover, it remains possible that around 2.1 billion tons of food could be lost or wasted this year while 840 million people will still go hungry. Fortunately, the restaurant industry can make a positive impact in closing the food waste gap by implementing zero waste policies and conducting a food waste audit, for example.
More importantly, restaurants can move away from using outdated processes and tools and invest in comprehensive inventory management solutions that help eliminate waste by providing data and insights necessary for forecasting demand, calculating the cost of recipe and menu changes, and improving profits by 2%. Are you ready to reduce food waste in your restaurant?
Read our in-depth guide on how to reduce food waste in your restaurant to learn how you can contribute to tackling food waste.
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