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Sustainable Restaurant Waste Management in Texas

The need for more appropriate ways of restaurant waste management in Texas will become more and more critical in the coming years. According to Planet Texas 2050, an incentive-driven program by the University of Texas at Austin, the population of Texas will double in 2050. Therefore, the amount of waste generated will also double. Our efforts will have to double, too, if we want to eliminate the harmful effect of waste on Texas, and the country, as a whole.

To ascertain effective restaurant waste management, we must strive to find alternatives to minimize the negative effect of waste on the livelihood of our communities in Texas. Local authorities can do this by introducing well-planned strategies. First, however, everyone generating waste must take responsibility for reducing waste. The way forward is effective planning and utilization of alternative avenues to incorporate generated waste into a usable product – also known as “circular economy.” 


In this guide, we highlight some of the key ways that you, as a business owner, can work to reduce your waste. Of course, the type of waste generated will be different for every restaurant or business. Still, innovative plans generated by restaurants can minimize garbage that will alleviate the burden of removing it and reduce the strain on local authorities, landfill sites, and the environment.


Composition of trash


The alarming makeup of our trash, as found by an independent environmental engineering firm contracted by the City of Austin, highlights the dire reality of what’s really in our trash: 

  • More than 80% of what is buried in landfills and incinerated could have been reused, recycled, or composted
  • Organic or compostable refuge makes up 37% of waste in landfills


So, what does this mean?  Restaurants and households simply send too much organic matter away as trash. In a circular economy principle, what is now considered bin-ends has actual reuse value – such as being repurposed into composting, creating nutrition-rich soil. 


To curb the waste and assist in establishing cost-effective ways to reduce the trashing of reusable organic waste, the City of Austin introduced the Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO). They also launched Austin’s Community Diversion Study (to read more, click here.


As of October 2018, the City of Austin implemented a new ordinance to ensure that no more foods are dumped in landfills by restaurants. According to the regulation, restaurants should train employees to handle waste, and restaurants may donate organic waste to farmers for composting. 


Understanding The Waste Management Hierarchy


Whenever we think about waste management, we must keep the waste management hierarchy in mind: Prevention, Reuse, Recycle, and, finally, Disposal. If the steps in the hierarchy are followed in the correct order, we can ensure effective waste management. 


By following the steps in the exact sequence as they are set out below, the contribution to landfills is minimized, which will enhance a greener and healthier Texas.


1. Prevention


Preventing something from becoming waste, especially in a restaurant environment, can increase revenue by lowering the Cost of Goods Sold (CoGS) while contributing to conserving nature. This is a win-win situation and should always be a priority. So let’s have a look at ways to prevent food from becoming trash.


Auditing Your Food Waste


If you don’t know what you waste and what you use, there is no way to alter it. Therefore, you have to start by measuring your waste output and what is actually used in food. This can be an arduous task, and the best way to go about it is to address it step by step. Finish a step and introduce changes or controls to improve that step before starting with a new stage. There are tools available to quantify every step in the food preparation process that may help you make the process more viable.


Measuring the food waste and food dished up for customers will enable you to measure your actual versus theoretical  (A.v.T) food usage. In addition, this metric will supply you with the means to streamline food preparation and maximize profit by reducing waste.


Remember that small changes can make a big difference in the amount of waste generated, and by breaking your strategy into steps it becomes more manageable, leading you to create greater change in the long run. 


Train your Staff in Preventing Food Waste to Increase Restaurant Waste Management


Your staff should be trained in the different waste-saving strategies developed during the planning stage after quantifying waste generated. Listening to your staffs’ ideas is brilliant, seeing that they work with it every day and may have thought of ingenious ways of prevention.


Remember, the more you can use food, the less will end up as waste.


Generate a Waste Journal and Plan According to That


By quantifying waste, you will be able to draft a waste journal that can be used to eliminate certain food preparation practices that enhance waste formation. For instance, if you have to throw away two gallons of salsa every second day, it is evident that too much salsa is prepped, and you should cut down.


Adopt The First in First Out (FIFO) Method for Stock


If the inventory is rotated so that the stock that arrives first is used first, you will cut down on spoiling of stock that will cause less waste and generate more money.


Store Food Properly

Ensure that all food is stored in appropriate containers at the right temperature to ensure they stay fresh. Labeling perishable goods with the date received and expected date of expiry will help a lot.


The art of storing and organizing food in your restaurant kitchen is of utmost importance to ensure fresh food and minimize waste.


Identify Multi-Use Menu Items and Plan the Menu Accordingly


An excellent example of this is where a dish requires lemons: using the peels in cocktails, utilizing the whole fruit, minimizing waste. Another example is artichoke hearts, which are used in a specific salad. Instead of wasting the rest of the fruit, it can be used in pizzas or other salads. Or, take breadcrumbs that can be gathered and used in stuffing. These preventative measures begin to integrate waste management into everyday practices. It is beneficial to find an alternative use for materials that would normally be thrown away. The added bonus to this approach saves you money, too!  


2. Reuse Waste, Improving Restaurant Waste Management

Not all food needs to be trashed, good food can be distributed between employees or people in need.

a. Distributing Food Leftovers Among Staff or People in Need


Decent food leftovers can be dished out to serve as food for the staff, or donated to people in need.


You can find out more about donating food to people in need on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website. The website includes legal liability when donating food and organizations that will pick up the leftovers, repackage them and distribute them between local people in need. A local food bank or pantry will be more than willing to pick food up regularly if it meets their requirements. 


b. Food Leftovers as Animal Feed


Leftovers that are not good for human consumption can be used to feed animals. Examples of this are where waste can be fed to pigs in an organic local farming setup. Feel free to contact GrubTubs, a great initiative that supplies clean airtight containers in which you can place the leftovers that will be distributed between local Texas farmers for animal feed.


c. Composting as Effective Restaurant Waste management


Most organic materials that are not edible can be reused by composting them to supply a nutrient-rich substrate that can be used in future crop production by farmers in Texas. If you need a Texas farmer to pick up your organic compost material, you can enter your zip code on this page, and you will have access to farmers that will need your organic material to produce food.


The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists wasted food programs and resources in Texas and the USA. In addition, the list supplies contact information for food redistribution to people in need, composting, and other initiatives.


Composting by local farmers provides them with a nutrient-rich substance that can be used effectively in planting and nurturing the next crop that we can eat. Thus, Composting is a circular economy in practice, and effort put in will be harvested.


The DFW Airport was the first and largest airport in the world to reach carbon neutrality. And they have achieved that through the rechanneling of their waste to local farms and community gardens that compost the garbage to feed the next harvest! 


3. Recycle


Non-organic material that can’t be reused can be recycled for utilization in another product. PET-free water bottles are an excellent example of a product that can be recycled to produce brand new water bottles or other plastic materials. Just make sure you are following recycling guidelines strictly.


Almost everything can be and should be recycled to minimize the amount of trash sent to landfills. Time To Recycle is a North Texas initiative to supply you with all the information you need on what and how you can recycle.


4. Disposal


Disposal of materials that you cannot use for any other purpose and that are not recyclable is the last and ultimate step in the waste management hierarchy—the fewer materials we need to dispose of, the better. If you aim for zero-waste as a business, then none of your “left-overs” should get to this stage. In the spirit of a circular economy, we should take all the steps prior to disposal and allow them to reform our business practices. 


Following these steps in the food waste hierarchy will lead to better food utilization through effective planning and utilization. Furthermore, the inevitable food scraps generated can be utilized to feed people in need and animals. The balance of food waste can generate nutrient-rich compost, which can grow a new crop. Therefore, food waste can be utilized in a “circular economy” where our contribution and effort will cut costs, feed the hungry, and save Texas.