Blog Post

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and World Resources Institute (WRI) recently released a report about the cost savings realized by restaurants that invest in food waste reduction. WRAP and WRI conducted their research on behalf of Champions 12.3, an international coalition of executives from government, businesses, and institutions, dedicated to accelerating progress towards achieving Target 12.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The research analyzed cost and benefit data from 114 restaurants across 12 countries, determining that 75% of the businesses that spent money to reduce food waste in their operations recouped their investment in the first year of implementation, and also reduced their food losses by 26% on average. In fact, for every $1 invested in food waste reduction, half of the restaurants realized approximately a $6 return or greater.

This favorable return on investment comes from simple, cost-effective strategies that can be easily incorporated into daily operations. Restaurants have realized cost savings in the form of smarter procurement strategies, increased revenue by repurposing unsold food into new menu items, and decreased waste management costs. The full report describes the following key strategies that restaurants featured in the study consistently apply to successfully reduce food waste and realize cost savings:

  • Measuring food waste to determine where and how much food is being wasted. RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts (RecyclingWorks) offers an online tool to help businesses and institutions estimate their food waste, but a more precise measurement could be made by utilizing the EPA’s Food Waste Logbook, or waste tracking systems, such as LeanPath, Winnow, and Phood. Leading companies, including many restaurants, are publicly reporting their food waste data through initiatives such as the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, which provides recognition for food waste diversion efforts through publicity and annual awards.
  • Engaging staff through management guidance, regular meetings, formal trainings, and peer learning opportunities. Often, the ‘human factor’ is key to successfully implementing a food waste reduction program. Staff should feel secure that they will not be blamed for waste, which could lead to inaccurate measurements. Instead, staff should be rewarded for accurate measurements. Some businesses identify an individual at each of their locations as a ‘food waste champion’, who takes on extra responsibility to motivate their co-workers to engage in the program.
  • Reducing overproduction of foods that are under-consumed, and the development of accurate forecasting of consumer demand. Many restaurants use certain production techniques for efficiency, such as batch cooking, but they often fail to consider the high proportion of food waste associated with this preparation style. When a business considers the hidden costs of food waste, it makes economic sense to shift away from this preparation method to a system that favors a cook-to-order approach. RecyclingWorks developed source reduction guidance to help businesses strategize approaches to reduce overproduction at the source.
  • Restructuring inventory management and purchasing practices by using qualitative information gathered from staff engagement and historical waste data. Restaurants can use this data to negotiate with their supplier for a more efficient delivery schedule that better fits their specific needs.
  • Repurposing excess food into new meals (such as reusing leftover bread for bread pudding or croutons). This strategy reduces waste and increases the possibility that businesses may earn revenue from the sale of already purchased inventory. Restaurants with a set cycle menu can make “reuse” a part of their operations through a rotating menu slot that features unused items from earlier in the week.

RecyclingWorks helps businesses and institutions maximize recycling, reuse, and composting opportunities. RecyclingWorks offers comprehensive guidance for starting or expanding a food waste diversion program at restaurants, and can provide free technical assistance to help your organization reduce waste in your operations. Call our hotline at (888) 254-5525 or email today to speak to a recycling expert.