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Restaurant Dining vs. Home Cooking: Which Generates More Waste?

The restaurants, coffee shops, food banks, and grocery stores—whose food scraps we gather and turn into compost—have taken some steps to mitigate the waste they generate and the potentials they create for amplifying your waste when you consume their food and drink. The amplification of diners' waste is a serious concern as it means many tons of reclaimable food scraps going to the landfill each day, which turn into methane and leachate.

The vast majority of caterers, food prep companies, restaurants, coffee shops and other food service businesses in Fort Wayne, and NE Indiana, take no steps at all to reduce their ecological impact, including not composting. For the average coffee shop, the cost of composting is less than a cup of cappuccino, about $2 a day.

Generating Food Waste at Restaurants
Food waste from a large cafeteria in Fort Wayne

Here are several ways that restaurants can, and often do, amplify the waste of their customers compared to cooking at home:

  1. Portion Sizes: Restaurants often serve larger portions than what customers might eat at home, leading to more leftover food waste.

  2. Single-use Items: Restaurants use single-use items like paper napkins, plastic cutlery, straws, and condiment packets that increase waste.

  3. Packaging: Takeout and delivery orders generate significant waste from disposable packaging materials.

  4. Food Spoilage: Restaurants may prepare large quantities of food in advance, which can lead to spoilage and waste if not all is sold.

  5. Menu Variety: Extensive menus require stocking many ingredients, some of which may not be used frequently and thus go to waste.

  6. Buffet Style: Buffets often result in substantial food waste as leftover food cannot always be reused.

  7. Leftover Policies: Some restaurants have strict policies against serving or donating leftovers, leading to more waste.

  8. Water Waste: Excessive use of water for cleaning dishes, produce, and kitchen areas can contribute to waste.

  9. Pre-consumer Waste: Restaurants generate pre-consumer waste from trimmings, peelings, and other food prep discards.

  10. Overstocking: Restaurants may overstock ingredients to avoid running out, leading to more perishable items going bad.

  11. Miscommunication: Errors in orders due to miscommunication can result in food being thrown away.

  12. Marketing Practices: Promotions and special offers can lead to over-preparation and subsequent waste.

  13. Health and Safety Regulations: Strict health and safety regulations may require restaurants to dispose of food that might still be safe to eat.

  14. Aesthetic Standards: Restaurants often discard food that doesn't meet visual standards, even if it's still edible.

  15. Seasonal Menus: Seasonal changes in menus can lead to waste if ingredients for the outgoing season’s dishes are not fully used up.

  16. Bread Service: Complimentary bread or other snacks provided at the beginning of a meal often go uneaten and are discarded.

  17. Garnishes: Decorative garnishes that aren't consumed add to food waste.

  18. Beverage Waste: Leftover or unfinished drinks, including soft drinks, coffee, and alcohol, are often discarded.

  19. Employee Meals: Leftovers from employee meals, if not managed properly, can add to waste.

  20. Overcooking: Mistakes in cooking, such as overcooking or burning, result in food being thrown out.

  21. Inventory Management: Poor inventory management can lead to over-ordering and subsequent spoilage of perishable items.

  22. Customer Preferences: Some customers may not take leftovers home, increasing food waste.

  23. All-you-can-eat Promotions: These can lead to customers taking more food than they can eat, resulting in waste.

These factors contribute to the overall increase in waste in restaurants compared to home cooking, where individuals typically have more control over portion sizes, ingredients, and leftovers. Restaurants in our area have had the option to compost for five years now. It is past time they take the steps to reduce their impact and be responsible contributors to our community. Ask your favorite restaurants to compost. It will cause them to rethink how they deal with waste and will most likely save them money in the process.

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