Managing organic food waste in your business

Adding food waste to your already successful waste and recycling management practices can result in additional cost recovery and creating a beneficial reusable soil product: compost.

The single largest component of the nation’s waste stream by weight is food waste. Nationally, we throw away almost one quarter of all prepared food including waste and scraps from processing, uneaten food from households, commercial enterprises and institutions. Food waste is easily compostable and can provide higher levels of desirable nutrients in finished compost products.

Businesses that do not already have a system for collecting food waste separately will want to ask themselves several questions before they begin. These are not all the questions one might ask but an example of what needs to be considered to implement an organics recycling program.

  • Do I have the space to accommodate the additional collection containers and bins?
  • What systems will need to be set up to facilitate the separation and collection process?
  • Will the staff be trained to sort the trash from the organic waste?
  • Who will be responsible to head up the new system and follow through with sustaining it?
  • Is this service offered by my regular waste hauler? If not…
    • Will the compost facility pick up the waste or must an independent contractor be hired for this service. How can I find out about my local compost facility?
    • Is there a green cart program in the city? What do they take? Do they service households only or businesses as well?
  • What are my resources? Do I know my County or city recycling coordinator?
  • What steps can be taken to reduce the amount of waste created in the first place? Participate in the food recovery challenge.

Food waste is often characterized differently than other organic waste, such as yard waste, in that it is much wetter and more likely to decay faster and become putrescent. This poses additional challenges for waste haulers and composters who manage this highly-compostable waste material. It needs to be moved more frequently and stored in secure leak-proof containers. This can mean an initial investment for these collection containers.

Control, recovery and composting of food waste can mean cost savings for many businesses in the food industry. Wasted food means wasted money. If you are in the food service industry and food is always left on patrons’ plates, perhaps reducing portion size is in order. If you are in the food processing industry and there are storage losses, perhaps an evaluation of handling practices should be reviewed. These are just a few ways to reduce losses in the food industry.

For more information about community food systems and food hubs contact Michigan State University Extension Community Food System educators who are working across Michigan to provide community food systems educational programming and assistance. 

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