Waste Management

According to certain Western European studies, each and every restaurant guest produces approx. 0,5 kg waste when eating out. This of course not only means serviettes and leftover food, but mostly the byproducts of the food preparation phase (e.g. used oil, vegetable- and meat parts left after cleaning and cutting), and the weight of all the packaging materials.

In our questionnaire, we have divided waste-related questions into two categories: one is about the restaurant’s recycling practices, and the other concerns the efforts made towards reducing the amount of waste. 20-60% of the waste produced by restaurants are biodegradable organic waste, that can be fully composted and thus saved from the landfill – if it’s collected the right way. Out of all this, 65% waste is produced during food preparation, 30% is leftover food, and 5% is food that has gone bad. Many methods are available for a restaurant to reduce these amounts: paying attention to how the menu is put together, or organizing a campaign for their customers on „Bring a box for leftovers”. Besides the indirect environmental impacts, this approach has important cost saving aspects as well. Restaurants pay double for food which has been not consumed by the customers: first at the time of purchasing, and second when the waste gets taken away. That is also a reason why restaurants are motivated to sell more food. Interesting point, isn’t it? The second most important field where the amount of waste can be reduced is by using less paper and cardboard boxes, since these represent 20-50% of the total waste. Recycling the paper – instead of producing new – results in 40% less energy use and 95% less environmental impact. In this category, fast food restaurants have the highest improvement capacity, since in their case, a lot of ready-made and only later served food must go through more than one packaging phase.

The amount of metal, glass and plastic accounts for about 10-20% of the total waste, and these are significant secondary raw materials. Thus serious environmental impacts can be avoided by collecting and recycling these materials. In the case of a product made of metal, the cost of the energy and the pollution is approx. one twentieth when it is manufactured from scrap metal, instead of using „pure” raw materials. All other types of waste can almost be neglected if we consider their amount. However, since hazardous waste can be among them, it is important for restaurants to pay high attention to collecting these also. In Hungary, legal regulations are already in place to collect and dispose oil- and electric light bulbs, since they can cause serious environmental damages when they get in contact with nature. Restaurants will always produce waste, but with appropriate operation, and by taking into consideration the aspects of reduction, recycling and reuse, significant results can be achieved.

A restaurant owner may ask what kind of benefits are there for a restaurant to launch a waste reduction program? Such a program can increase efficiency, reduce costs, and prepare food in a more environmental friendly way. Furthermore, this way the management can increase the awareness and environmental responsibility of the employees, which generally leads to less fluctuation. But the most significant benefit for a restaurant is customer satisfaction; a restaurant with a positive attitude, which also communicates this towards the customers, receives multiple times what it has invested.

A big THANK YOU goes out for Katalin Hall for translating the original site!

Lisa Rabasca: Waste from Restaurants
Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) Organic waste in restaurants – survey