Restaurants generate a range of materials, including food waste, cardboard, paper, and food and beverage containers, all of which have well-established recycling markets. Reducing food waste, the largest component of the restaurant waste stream, offers an opportunity to cut back on disposal weight and reduce the associated disposal and operational costs. Strategies restaurants can adopt to manage leftover food include prevention, food donation, collection for animal feed, composting, anaerobic digestion, or processing through on-site systems. Implementing single stream recycling and food waste reduction strategies at restaurants can help provide a sustainable marketing edge and ensure waste ban compliance.
Diverting Food Waste
Restaurants that dispose of one ton or more of food waste each week are subject to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) commercial organics waste ban, which requires businesses and institutions to divert this material from disposal. Effective November 1, 2022, the MassDEP is lowering the threshold for the commercial organics ban so that it applies to restaurants generating one-half ton or more food waste per week. To project food waste generation rates, businesses can visit the RecyclingWorks Food Waste Estimation Guide, which provides industry specific tools for Restaurants. There are numerous resources available to support businesses that want to reduce food waste, including RecyclingWorks Source Reduction Guidance. For guidance on starting a food waste diversion program at a restaurant, see our Restaurant Food Waste Diversion Guide.
Additional Food Waste Resources:
- The National Restaurant Association’s website includes procurement best practices, a food waste calculator, tips on menu redesign, and resources for donation and diversion.
- The James Beard Foundation offers a professional Waste Not Curriculum to provide solutions for food waste reduction in working kitchens.
- The US EPA’s Excess Food Opportunities Map supports food waste diversion by sharing facility-specific information about possible outlets for excess food. To support businesses in quickly finding their community food bank, Feeding America has developed a Find Your Local Foodbank.
- Sodexo’s “Huddle Cards” are designed to stimulate conversation around topics related to food waste reduction and prevention.
- ReFED’s Food Waste Action Guide has been created with support from restaurants and trade associations to encourage restaurants to adopt strategies to reduce food waste.
Recycling Cardboard, Paper, and Containers
Businesses in Massachusetts often use a single stream recycling program to collect cardboard, paper, and plastic, metal, and glass containers. In restaurants, communication with employees is key to collecting recyclable materials from the kitchen. In businesses where customers may also recycle materials, providing clearly labeling bins is important. Visit the MassDEP Recycle Smart MA website to learn more about materials typically accepted for single stream recycling and discuss any questions with your recycling hauler.
Cardboard is often included with the single stream recycling. However, larger businesses may find a financial benefit to collecting this material separately.
Takeout, delivery, or grab-and-go dining options often generate large quantities of packaging and other single-use materials that may not be accepted for recycling through a typical single stream program in Massachusetts. Our Guide for Reducing Waste From Restaurant Takeout and Delivery Meals offers tips to help your restaurant save money, eliminate unnecessary waste, and purchase takeout materials that can be reused, recycled, or composted.
Businesses that provide recyclable or compostable containers are encouraged to clearly communicate to customers how to handle these materials after use. This may include public-facing signage, verbal reminders from cashiers, handouts included in the takeout bag, or information printed on the food containers.
When selecting products, remember that biodegradable and compostable are not the same. Check with your local hauler or composting end-site that the material you choose is accepted. The following tips will help you identify if compostableware is a good fit for your business:
- Confirm that customers have access to a curbside or drop-off commercial composting program that accepts this material.
- Choose products that are third-party certified compostable.
- If your organics hauler accepts compostableware, offer a public-facing collection bin at your restaurant for customers to return their materials.
- Communicate with your customers! Compostableware should never go in the recycling bin.
Additional Takeout Packaging Resources:
- The Green Restaurant Association has developed a video, Reduce Take-Out Packaging in Two Simple Steps.
- The Product Stewardship Institute has created a Plastic Footprint Calculator as well as a Guide for Restaurants and Eateries to Reduce Plastic & Benefit Your Business.
- Boston-based restaurant Grainmaker implemented a successful reusable takeout container program.
- ReThink Disposable has many resources on this topic, including a Foodware Calculator to help businesses estimate the payback period and cost savings of switching from a disposable foodware item to a reusable one, as well as a reusable food serviceware guide that includes pictures, prices, materials, specs, vendors for all different types of reusable to-go ware.
- Care for the Cape Islands has developed a Compostable Food Serviceware Buying Guide.
- The Biodegradable Products Institute has outlined Guidelines for The Labeling and Identification of Compostable Products and Packaging.
Waste Ban Compliance Tips for Restaurants
To help restaurants comply with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) Waste Bans, RecyclingWorks developed the following sector-specific tip sheets, available in both English and Spanish:
Restaurant Recycling & Composting Case Studies
Gardner Ale House: Learn how RecyclingWorks helped Gardner Ale House establish a successful program to divert food waste to an off-site pig farm in advance of the commercial organics ban. Our Gardner Ale House Written Case Study provides additional information about food scraps diversion at this restaurant.
Town of Lenox: Learn how the Lenox Environmental Committee and RecyclingWorks helped eight small restaurants start diverting food scraps for composting. Our Town of Lenox Written Case Study includes more information about food scraps diversion in Lenox.
Northampton Brewery: Learn about Northampton Brewery’s commitment to a low environmental impact and the measures that allow them to divert 300 tons of food waste annually.
Clio Case Study: Read about the steps the Clio Restaurant in Boston, MA takes to divert nearly 50,000 lbs of food waste annually!
- Contact the RecyclingWorks hotline at (888) 254-5525 or email@example.com to learn more about our free technical assistance.
- We offer no-cost technical assistance to support businesses and institutions seeking to adopt recycling, reuse, and food recovery strategies.
- Learn more about contracting with haulers to set up your recycling or food waste programs.
- Explore various options available for equipment for collecting trash, recycling and food waste.
Learn more about the following business sectors:
- Colleges and Universities
- Health Care
- Property Managers
RecyclingWorks is especially interested in helping restaurants establish food waste composting programs in the coming months. Restaurant owners and managers are encouraged to call or email the hotline for guidance and assistance: (888) 254-5524, or firstname.lastname@example.org.