Steps to Help Your Restaurant Reduce Waste and Recycle

By now, you may have heard how recycling can boost a restaurant’s reputation and impact revenue. According to the National Restaurant Association and Georgia-Pacific, nearly 65% of restaurateurs embrace recycling. But what about the other 35%? For many, it is a challenge to simply get started.

Having worked with restaurants of all types and sizes, under different local regulations, we understand the challenges behind implementing a recycling program. But no matter the size, any restaurant can start a recycling program with these three key steps.

1. Assess your waste with an audit.

How much waste is your restaurant generating? What types of waste are included? Answering these questions is part of your first step towards an effective plan. An audit by a recycling or waste recovery firm will tell you how much food waste, recyclable material and landfill waste your site generates on a daily basis.

You may be surprised by the amount of recyclables in your restaurant’s waste stream.

It is often higher than clients expect. And growth in the recycling industry has led to more options for recycling cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum, paper and cooking oil.

After assessing your waste, a professional auditor should also review your waste fees and past invoices. Only then will you have a complete picture when considering your options.

2. Review waste recovery and recycling options.

The information you uncover with a waste audit will help you with the next step: choosing which materials to recycle, divert or send to landfills.

As a restaurant owner, you have a few alternatives for handling waste and unserved food. They include processing recyclable materials, diverting unused food to food banks, sending waste oils for rendering or conversion and sending regular waste to landfills. The options available in each city varies.

Any waste you can divert from landfills not only helps the environment, but also cuts your waste removal costs. It is a win-win situation that has encouraged more restaurants to boost their recycling.

Organic Recycling

Another increasingly popular option is organic recycling. This involves sending food waste to an organic composting program. Composting turns your leftover food, spoiled food, vegetable scraps, coffee filters and other food waste into organic fertilizer. Through this process you help create rich fertilizer for local use. You also divert heavy food waste from your regular trash pickup.

While composting has long been used by farmers and gardeners, it is now a viable option for restaurants as more cities around the country offer composting programs. It is growing so rapidly that some areas of California now require organic recycling at restaurants.

Comply with Local Regulations

State or local agencies may require recycling of specific items. In North Carolina, for example, those holding certain alcohol permits must recycle beverage containers. In the District of Columbia, all businesses must recycle items such as aluminum cans and glass bottles. Make sure you are informed of local rules when working with a waste hauler or recycling firm. While focusing on laws is important, keep in mind that just because it is not a law, doesn’t mean that you can’t recycle it. Your waste management vendor should help you to understand your local markets.

3). Plan and price the program.

Once you have assessed your waste and reviewed your options, your next step is to plan and price your recycling program. This is done with your vendor’s help.

Local rules, your waste stream and your operations all impact the options you have available. There may also be opportunities to save. Perhaps your area offers incentive discounts for recycling. Or maybe you can pay less by processing recyclables as a single stream through one vendor.

Can You Reduce or Reuse?

Do not forget to review your purchasing decisions as well. Look for ways to reduce or reuse materials that are not recyclable. For example, most areas offer few, if any, options for recycling polystyrene (Styrofoam). Some cities have even banned its use for food packaging. In light of this, you may want to replace your Styrofoam coffee cups or trays with paper versions instead.

Buying reusable flatware, serving cream in pitchers and using less individually packaged items are just a few ways to reduce and reuse. And with these adjustments in purchasing, you can boost the cost efficiency of your program.

The Bottom Line

Work with your vendor to create a program that fits your needs and your budget. We also recommend a follow-up waste audit once the program begins as well as an annual reassessment thereafter. This will show if you have reduced your waste sufficiently or if you need further adjustments, especially as your business changes or shipping materials change.

Overall, it pays to investigate every option to recycle more, use less and save money. The key component to saving money is not only by initially reducing the service levels on your actual trash that is disposed in a landfill, but controlling those service levels throughout the year. As the industry has proven, recycling is not only good for the environment, it is also preferred by customers and is good for business. What is keeping you from getting started?

Carmine Esposito is President of National Waste Associates. NWA helps businesses and organizations with multiple locations dramatically cut expenses on waste services while simplifying waste management so clients can spend their time on their core business.