4 ways to cut campus food waste, from colleges to corporates

cafeteria
ShutterstockTrong Nguyen

This article is adapted from GreenBiz's Circular Weekly newsletter, running Fridays. Subscribe here

You probably already know that around a third of all food produced — roughly 1 billion tons per year — is never eaten. And while you may be thinking about far-off farms and factories as the source of that waste, nearly 85 percent of food in the United States is wasted and lost at consumer-facing businesses and homes, according to ReFED’s analysis

Looking at one slice of the challenge, the U.S. restaurant sector generates (PDF) 11.4 million tons of food waste annually. That’s just 1.1 percent of the global total, but it still carries a hefty price tag: more than $25 billion, when taking into account the growing, transporting, processing and disposing of food that is ultimately wasted. But a growing number of foodservice operators are finding that curbing food waste simultaneously can keep edible food out of landfills and keep money in their pockets. 

According to The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Restaurants (PDF), a 2017 report by Champions 12.3 — a coalition working to achieve Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which focuses on cutting food waste and loss in half by 2030 — restaurants saved $7 in operating costs on average for every $1 they invested in reducing kitchen food waste. The analysis looked at data from 114 restaurants across 12 countries and found that 76 percent of the sites recouped their investment within the first year of implementing a food waste reduction program, and 89 percent of the sites recouped their investment within two years. Not too shabby. 

So, what it will take to halve food waste from corporate and institutional foodservice operations by the end of the next decade? Here are a few places to begin: 

1. Collect the right data. Knowing the scale of your food waste problem is a good place to start. Measuring and tracking waste varies in levels of sophistication, from using cameras, scales and scanners to lower-tech options, such as spreadsheets. Working with the likes of Google, IKEA and Sodexo, LeanPath is known for its industry leadership to help companies track and prevent food waste in foodservice environments. 

2. Shift consumer norms. In all-you-can-eat facilities, try using smaller plates and eliminating trays from the dining experience. When the University of Massachusetts Amherst removed trays from its dining halls in 2009, it reduced diners’ food waste by 30 percent. 

3. Design menus to reduce food waste. By reducing the number of ingredients and repurposing trim from food prep and overproduced dishes, kitchens can maximize the use of all ingredients and menu items.  

4. Rescue uneaten food. While uneaten food is still safe for human consumption, make sure it’s rescued and consumed. Copia, Olio and Replate are just three of the many companies working with campus and other foodservice operations to navigate the logistical, food safety and policy concerns of rescuing uneaten food that otherwise might go to waste. 

These are just four of an extensive list of strategies, tools and best practices your corporate campus could take to begin tackling its food waste challenge. (I highly recommend ReFED’s 2018 Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide for a deeper dive into the topic).

"Ultimately, cutting food waste in line with global targets will require more than just implementing a couple of internal initiatives at your campus or institution," Kai Robertson, lead adviser for FLW Protocol at the World Resources Institute, told me. "It requires looking up and down the food chain, gathering the right data, leveraging your purchasing power, investing in emerging technologies and thinking more regionally about how to keep food out of landfills and on plates."

Are you working to take a bite out of food waste? To tackle this problem, we’re bringing together stakeholders from across the foodservice value chain working to reduce or eliminate wasted food in restaurants, cafeterias and catering operations inside companies, public agencies, hospitals, hospitality venues and other facilities.

[Later this month at VERGE (Oct. 22-24, Oakland , California), we will convene a half-day, invitation-only working session, in collaboration with WRI, focused on accelerating the technologies, partnerships and best practices that are dramatically reducing or eliminating food waste from corporate and institutional foodservice operations. Request an invite on our website.]

Tags: