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Home > Feature Articles > Restaurant and Institutional Best Practice Strategies for Food Management

Food Waste Innovations for Solid Waste Management

Food can be donated to charities, converted into animal feed, rendered into soap or other products, and composted.

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Food Waste Alternatives

Food can be donated to charities, converted into animal feed, rendered into soap or other products, and composted. Food waste can also be avoided through conservation and right-sizing strategies.

California Implements 50% Waste Diversion Programs

California's Integrated Waste Management Board showcased successful recycling and waste reduction programs developed by local and regional jurisdictions to achieve California's 50 percent waste diversion goals.

24 studies were prepared to highlight successful model programs in reuse, recycling, composting, and other areas of waste management.


Food discards make up 10 percent by weight of the total municipal waste stream and can be a higher portion of commercial sector wastes.

In California, 16 percent of wastes disposed consist of food. This represents almost 5.6 million tons per year. Restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, schools, produce markets, hospitals, prisons, and wholesalers are all large generators of food. Farmers, renderers, and food banks have long collected food discarded by businesses and institutions.

In the last decade, new initiatives have proven successful in recovering more food and converting it into valuable end uses. Curbside collection of segregated organics is growing in popularity. Most of these programs focus on commercial and institutional sectors, but some are also tapping food recovery from the residential sector.

Food recovery efforts are taking place in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz, Calif. Each jurisdiction embraces a unique approach to facilitating food recovery.

A growing number of commercial-scale composting sites are now permitted to handle many types of food discards.

On-site small-scale composting systems at schools and other establishments are also on the rise. These range from in-vessel systems to simple worm bins.

Options include food donations, processing into animal feed, and rendering.

More attention could be given to waste prevention, such as educating restaurants to offer smaller portions (light meals or half portions).

One of the biggest challenges in diverting commercial food waste is overcoming the perception that segregating food waste is extra work and a nuisance.

In California, 294 local jurisdictions (56 percent of the total in the state) have existing separate collection programs for residential green materials. Another 48 (9 percent) have planned such programs. Adding food discards to these programs has the potential of significantly increasing diversion without greatly increasing costs.

Successful Food Recovery Programs

Food recovery efforts are taking place in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz, Calif. Each jurisdiction embraces a unique approach to facilitating food recovery.

San Francisco has the most comprehensive program of any jurisdiction in the state. The city and county solid waste agency has formed partnerships with local food banks, haulers, and end users to divert commercial and residential food waste to beneficial uses.

To spur commercial sector food recovery, the city contracts with a consultant to assist program development and analysis. The consultant also provides training, monitoring, follow-up, and outreach to food waste generating customers with commercial food collection service (provided by the city’s haulers). The city has also funded indoor sorting containers to assist participants. In addition, the city and county have provided more than $350,000 in grant money to help build the edible food recovery infrastructure.

One grant funded identification of food waste generators and food waste end users, and the linking of the two.

Another grant funded the planning and development of on-site vermicomposting systems at camps, schools, and other establishments.

San Jose is funding two pilot projects to test in-vessel composting of food waste from supermarkets. BFI is implementing one pilot at the Newby Island Landfill using Green Mountain Technology’s in-vessel system. Zanker Road Resource Management is implementing the second pilot at its Z-Best Composting facility using the Ag-Bag system.

The City of San Bernardino operated a pilot program targeting 21 restaurants in May and June 1998. Food recovered from these restaurants diverted 4 to 6 percent of the city’s total municipal solid waste during these months.

The Alameda County Waste Management Authority’s support for the Alameda County Community Food Bank helped the food bank increase distribution of produce from 400,000 pounds to 2 million pounds.

Community Recycling & Resource Recovery’s project in the Los Angeles area may be the largest food waste diversion project in the world. Grocery waste and waxed cardboard are collected from more than 1,000 grocery stores and mixed and composted with green waste at the company’s Bakersfield composting site.

California BioMass provides a similar outlet for food recovery efforts, also in Southern California. It has three composting facilities that accept food discards from Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties.

Many college campuses such as UC Davis and UC Berkeley are using vermicomposting to divert their cafeteria wastes from disposal.

A number of elementary schools are also using vermicomposting for their food discards

Food Materials

Food waste generators can divert their food discards to one or more end uses.

Unspoiled food can go to food banks.

Local and national food bank programs frequently offer free pickup and provide reusable containers to donors.

Liquid fats and solid meat products can be used as raw materials in the rendering industry. Many renderers will provide storage barrels and free pickup service.

Vermicomposting and in-vessel systems are gaining popularity for use on-site where food is generated.

Five basic types of food diversion approaches are in use:

(1) unaerated static pile composting,

(2) aerated static pile composting,

(3) aerated windrow pile composting,

(4) in-vessel composting, and

(5) vermicomposting or worm composting.

Establishments that compost on-site will avoid collection costs, which generally represent the bulk of waste handling costs. For on-site recovery, establishments need to have space and devote staff resources to operating and maintaining the composting system. Alternatively they may be able to hire a company to install and oversee on-site composters.

Basic steps for food recovery

1. Identify and measure: Identify large food waste generators.

2. Assess the possibility of establishing on-site composting systems. Benefits: reduce transportation emissions, gain quality compost for landscaping, reduce hauling costs.

3. Identify end users for food discards. These include food banks, renderers, farmers, and composters. Assess the types of materials each can process.

4. Work with select end users (especially food banks and renderers) and haulers to provide collection service for segregated food discards.

5. Contact food waste generators to promote either on-site recovery of food discards or collection of these. Avoid elaborate material separation requirements.

6. Provide technical assistance, rate incentives, and bins to encourage food waste generators to participate. Grants to help offset the costs of on-site composting equipment can help spur this activity.

7. Perform ongoing outreach to expand and maintain the program.

Costs and Benefits

Commercial food waste generators may economically benefit the most from diverting their unwanted food to beneficial uses. This is especially true if haulers offer reduced rates for collection of segregated organic materials. By reducing the number of trash pickups, costs tend to go down.

Tip fees at composting facilities are generally cheaper than tip fees at landfills. The challenge is to implement a collection program for organics that does not add to total program costs.

Directory of SoCal Composting Sites

Compost Sites Permitted to Accept Food

Worm Bin Suppliers in California

CIWMB Contact

Larry N. Stephens: (916) 341-6241

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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