Technology lets operators combine sustainability and cost savings in waste management.

Restaurants are losing thousands of dollars per year due to inefficient waste management. Overflowing and outsized dumpsters, missed pickups, hauling costs, contamination fees, and inaccurate waste measurement rack up unnecessary monetary and environmental costs. San Francisco–based waste metering company Compology leverages artificial intelligence to quantify a restaurant’s waste production to cut overall efficiency costs, improve recycling rates, and reduce their carbon footprint. Compology also generates the benefits of daily alerts and on-trend reporting directly from your dumpsters to your mobile device or email. 

According to Compology’s calculations, 80 million data points reveal that dumpsters are actually serviced at an average of 51 percent fullness (not 100 percent), making for inaccurate reporting on waste production. 

Compology’s platform—smart dumpster cameras powered by AI—allows restaurants to assess and track their waste management goals. “We were able to help a McDonald’s franchisee for all the McDonald’s in Las Vegas decrease their spend on waste by 31 percent,” Compology CEO Jason Gates says, citing Compology’s partnership with Brent Bohn, owner of WBF Management, one of the largest McDonald’s owner and operator groups based out of Las Vegas. “That translates to saving $3,321 per dumpster, per year.” Most locations have one trash and one recycling dumpster for a total savings of $6,642 per restaurant, per year. Nevada represents a middle of the road market expectation that restaurants across the country can work from.

According to Bohn, “The cameras have really streamlined recycling and provided accountability for us, but also for our suppliers and the haulers that we work with.”

More than the absolute dollar amount, which for a restaurant would go directly back into their gross margin, Gates also cites that “the return on investment is about 14 times the amount spent on the technology, which is pretty striking.” 

Rightsizing Delivers Cost Savings

One of the main avenues to cost savings is called “rightsizing,” or ensuring the dumpsters are the right size and service levels match actual waste production levels. The traditional system is rather inaccurate and manual, according to Gates, with collection service pickups based entirely on estimates of dumpster fullness. “Rather than guessing, we collect actual data on how full the dumpsters are when they’re being serviced and how much material is being added every day to come back with a very specific recommendation on a per restaurant basis. In doing so, you’re reducing the number of times the truck has to come and, therefore, reducing your cost,” Gates says. 

Additional benefits of waste metering include avoiding missed services and overages by proactively alerting management before it becomes an issue. “One of the pain points in the industry is overflowing containers. The industry statistic is that about 13 percent of service that restaurant operators pay for never occurs,” Gates says. 

Gates proposes treating waste metering like any other utility and likens the current system to an electric company demanding restaurants pay $4,000 based on an undocumented estimate. “The operator would say absolutely not, why should I pay you unless you know exactly how much electricity I used? We believe waste and recycling should be treated the same,” Gates says. 

Recycling for Sustainability

One of the most common materials thrown away at restaurants is cardboard, due to the frequency of deliveries. “Prices for clean cardboard are at an all-time high, and it represents one of the biggest opportunities for restaurant operators to not only divert that material from landfills but actually reduce their total cost of service by getting that cardboard into a separate recycling container,” Gates says. Waste metering prevents escalating contamination fees by detecting everything from externally dumped furniture to pallets to tires. “The cleaner that cardboard stream, the lower the cost will end up being for that operator.” 

Interest in sustainability and reducing a restaurant’s carbon footprint trickles down not only to consumers but to investors and shareholders and even employees, who strive for better recycling behavior at home and in public spaces. 

Quantifiable Data as a Tangible Asset

Long- and short-term trend data solve the adage you can’t manage what you can’t measure. “We find that the trend data gets incorporated into staff meetings and becomes a regular inclusion in operational workflows because it’s so tailored to each building based on its own performance. Historically the message has just been ‘recycle more.’ We try to change that whole paradigm and reach people through the channels they’re already using,” Gates says.  

Waste and recycling production data is so quantifiable that even Apple recently cited Compology findings in its 2020 Environmental Progress Report. Assuming its dumpsters were full each time they were serviced, the company overestimated their waste by as much as 50 percent and also found that materials often ended up in the wrong dumpsters. Apple used Compology’s data to better target sustainability efforts and raise employee awareness. According to Gates, these accurate metrics going directly into corporate social responsibility reports ladder up at a brand level, allowing businesses to tout the performance of their portfolio and quantify their waste and recycling carbon footprint. “So, as an example, for that same Las Vegas group of McDonald’s restaurants, we’re able to save them 8,000 truck miles per year. Which is equivalent to driving a truck from the northernmost tip of Alaska all the way down to the southernmost tip of Mexico. The associated reduction in carbon emissions is huge for them,” Gates says. 

Gates truly wants to help restaurants identify, measure, and take action on waste and recycling management for both the cost savings and sustainability efforts. Gates concludes: “That is the genesis of why we exist, because if you don’t understand what’s currently happening you can’t do anything to change it.” 

To learn more, visit the Compology website.

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