Caution: Food Waste Diversion Strategies Alone May Encourage Complacency

Composting, Recycling, and Landfill bins for food waste.

We’re excited to see the foodservice industry paying much closer attention to food waste in 2014 than at any time in the last 10 years. In broad terms, food waste management techniques either prevent food waste in the first place or, once it has been created, divert it from a landfill to some other end-of-life use. Prevention is at the top of the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy because it has the best environmental and financial outcomes.

The growing interest in food waste across the foodservice industry has kept us very busy at LeanPath working on prevention, and we’re also seeing extensive diversion efforts. Operators are using food dehydrators, aerobic digesters, composting and offsite anaerobic digesters to ensure food waste doesn’t get buried in the ground and produce methane gas.

Unfortunately, some operators view diversion as a “complete” solution to food waste when, in reality, diversion efforts fall in the lower half of the EPA Hierarchy. If an operator implements diversion and nothing else, they miss out on the greatest financial and environmental benefits of food waste management, which come from prevention. This isn’t just a minor miss; it’s a major one.

There is also a hidden danger with diversion programs that goes beyond omitting prevention. In a recent article from The Guardian, the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Dana Gunders states, “Sometimes, there’s a risk with composting. There’s a feel-good aspect to recycling and composting that can override our impulse to prevent food waste in the first place.” In other words, diversion may actually work against prevention if a front-line employee thinks waste is going to a “good place” rather than a “bad place.” Diverting food waste can create the illusion that waste is “OK”, as long as it does not go to the landfill.

Does this mean that foodservice operations should not pursue diversion? Absolutely not. These programs are beneficial and play an important role in reducing the amount of food waste sent to landfill. When they become dangerous, however, is when they are the only food waste reduction effort in place and the only message shared with employees. Remember, prevention lives at the top of the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy and forms the essential foundation of any food waste reduction effort.

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LeanPath Community Spotlight: SUNY Cortland

SUNY Cortland employees discuss waste reduction opportunities in a weekly SWAT meeting.

SUNY Cortland employees discuss waste reduction opportunities in a weekly SWAT meeting.

Dining Services of Auxiliary Services Corporation (ASC) at the State University of New York College at Cortland (SUNY Cortland) implemented the LeanPath System at the start of its fall 2013 semester to shrink its “food print,” help the environment and run a more profitable dining program. The impact already has been substantial.

The LeanPath program, in combination with their pulper and the partnership with local farmers for composting, has already helped reduce food waste from an average of 3,200 pounds per week to 2,533 pounds (and it continues to trend downward). Dining is saving more than $750 a week in waste avoidance and they are reinvesting those savings to serve high-quality foods without raising meal plan prices. Dining has not raised meal plan prices in four years and is even proposing a reduction in the coming year. Waste prevention allows them to pass the savings on to students by way of service and value.

Bill McNamara, Director of Dining, recently shared his feedback on the program and its impact thus far:

“Our new sustainability initiatives have helped change the culture of the dining program and engage employees. Everyone plays a role in measuring and monitoring food waste. By actively involving staff in the Stop Waste Action Team (SWAT) and correction process, they immediately buy into the process and they are eager and energized to contribute. The team reviews waste reports weekly to set waste minimization goals and to align food purchases, production and menus to actual consumption.

Implementing the LeanPath food waste prevention program was extremely easy. After providing LeanPath with Dining’s basic information such as products, costs and food categories, LeanPath pre-loaded all information into the system, enabling it to be accurate and usable on day one. In addition, LeanPath provided a full day of training to ensure the dining team was comfortable using the system from the start.”

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Waste Reduction Tip: “Chef’s Choice”

Picture this: you’re the head chef of a foodservice operation, it’s Friday evening, and it’s time to close the kitchen doors for the week and start prepping for the coming one. The thing is, you have a refrigerator full of leftovers from meals earlier in the week, and they’ll undoubtedly go bad. This scenario isn’t unfamiliar to many chefs in large foodservice operations, so what can be done to fix it?

Enter the “Chef’s Choice” station. To avoid tossing these perfectly good leftover ingredients, consider transforming one of your stations into a Chef’s Choice station one day a week, like Thursday or Friday. The chef decides what unique dishes can be created using those leftover ingredients, then serves them at the Chef’s Choice station. In addition to encouraging creativity in the kitchen, it will get customers excited to see what the chef has invented that week. And of course, it drives down food waste by saving perfectly edible ingredients from ending up in the garbage.

If foodservice is your industry and you find your operation has a lot of unnecessary waste piling up at the end of the week, why not try adding the Chef’s Choice station?

Thanks to Bill McNamara at SUNY Cortland for sharing this tip with the LeanPath Community! Do you have a waste reduction tip to share with the LeanPath community? Email us!

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133 Billion Pounds of Food Wasted Each Year

What’s Your Number?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a new report on food waste this month on The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States. The latest numbers on the food waste issue are (not surprisingly) staggering: in 2010, food losses equated to $161.6 billion in the U.S. based on retail prices. 31 percent of the food produced was wasted, meaning not available for human consumption at the retail and consumer levels, weighing in at 133 billion pounds.

These updated reports and figures remind us that the scope of the food waste problem is enormous. We remain optimistic, however, in our mission at LeanPath to work with our clients to take a bite out of this food waste crisis. We must each focus on what we can control and change. In foodservice, there is a significant opportunity to dial in purchasing, production and menus, to prevent avoidable food waste. How can we do this? By understanding the data (what’s being thrown away and why) and by taking action to prevent it.

Numbers get people’s attention. Just like these reports draw attention to the food waste issue at the national level, the same is true at the operational level. Except we have to go beyond evaluating the problem, and start honing in on where we can start to fix it. That’s the true power of data.

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Preventing Food Waste: A Team Effort

Earlier this month, we facilitated a session with some LeanPath clients to discuss best practices to utilize the LeanPath System and reduce more waste. Throughout the conversation, there was a common theme: Reducing food waste starts with cultivating a positive, waste-aware culture in the kitchen. Once your team is on board, reducing waste becomes second nature, resulting in less food wasted and more money saved.

Here are a few of the tips shared from the LeanPath community:

  • Keep a white board in your kitchen so employees can write down ideas for reducing waste.
  • Stay positive—make reducing food waste fun and engaging for staff.
  • Switch from pre-cut produce to preparing fresh produce in-house; this can help you reduce waste by giving you more control.
  • Repurpose edible food—those bread heels that have been ending up in the garbage are perfect for making croutons or breadcrumbs.

LeanPath users have the advantage of having specific opportunities highlighted for them in their waste data, but any kitchen can start looking for opportunities by paying closer attention to waste. Remember to keep the food waste reduction conversation positive, not punitive. Preventing food waste is a good thing, and we’ll do it better if we work together.

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LeanPath Community Spotlight: University of Vermont

UVM demonstrates how the LeanPath food waste prevention system works.

James Poulos, Executive Chef

Sodexo Dining at the University of Vermont began using LeanPath in April 2013. Since installing the system, they have prevented a significant amount of food waste through diligent waste tracking and high employee engagement. We recently spoke with James Poulos about his team’s experience with LeanPath.

Had you ever tried to track food waste before?

I worked for 20 years in restaurants—in those cases we would put waste in buckets and the chef would come by and look in them. If there was too much food waste in there he wouldn’t be happy.

Have you found that LeanPath has helped you pinpoint opportunities to reduce waste?

Absolutely. It makes everyone more aware of waste having to put it on the scale and weigh it. With the data, we can see specific areas where we’re wasting and correct those. For example, we saw we were throwing away a lot of bread, because we were throwing away the bread heels. By looking at the data, we noticed this and now we repurpose that waste and make croutons or bread crumbs. We also switched from pre-cut produce to buying fresh produce, and have decreased spoilage by prepping ourselves. We made changes to our recipes to avoid waste; we were throwing away 2-3 gallons of soup each night so we changed the menu and decreased production, reducing that waste.

What changes have you seen in terms of culture?

Everyone is more aware of what they’re wasting. All the employees are more mindful of their waste, and we talk about LeanPath a couple times a week in team huddles. The dollar amount raises awareness and has changed the culture of food waste.

What is the best part about using the LeanPath system?

Being able to look at the data and finally compartmentalize what’s going on out there. If I’m not there, at night I can still go in and see what was wasted and then we can talk about it in our team huddles that we have each week.

What would you say to a chef/manager that is not currently tracking food waste?

Well, I was sort of skeptical at the beginning, and I would imagine that I’m not the only one who would be. That’s until you start using the system and see the numbers and realize that it’s actually a very useful tool.

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Massachusetts Finalizes Ban on Commercial Food Waste

Massachusetts finalizes commercial ban on food waste

Massachusetts took a step toward reaching its goal of reducing its waste stream by 80% by 2050 today as the Patrick Administration announced the finalization of the statewide commercial food waste disposal ban. The ban, which will take effect on October 1 of this year, requires “any entity that disposes of at least one ton of organic material per week to donate or re-purpose the usable food” according to the official press release. Any remaining food waste must be sent to a composting or animal-feed operation, or an anaerobic digestion facility to convert it to clean energy.

While residents and small businesses are exempt from the new regulations, roughly 1,700 organizations will be affected by the ban, including universities, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, and other foodservice businesses. But the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is not leaving them to fend for themselves, having awarded to grants to the facilities that will handle the organic waste and establishing the “RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts” program that helps businesses and institutions ensure they are complying with the new regulations.

To read the full press release on the food waste ban, click here. If you are a Massachusetts business, or would just like to see answers to common questions about the ban, click here for MassDEP’s guide for businesses, institutions, and haulers.

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LeanPath on PBS NewsHour: Organizations Take On America’s Food Waste Challenge

VA Martinsburg PBS Newshour Reduce Prevent Food Waste LeanPath

In case you missed it, PBS NewsHour ran a great piece last weekend on how start-ups and other organizations are helping businesses fight food waste. Entitled Starts-Ups, Organizations Take On America’s Food Waste Challenge, the piece highlighted the food waste crisis and how companies are working to reduce food waste generated at all levels. LeanPath was among those featured, with an interview with Co-Founder and CEO Andrew Shakman as well as a profile of the work we’ve done with Martinsburg Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center.

Barbara Hartman, Chief of Nutrition and Food Service at the VA Medical Center, is the focus of the story, and she describes how the medical center went from sending all of its food waste to landfills to preventing much of that waste in the first place through tracking and composting programs. This combination of reducing food waste at the source by using tracking systems and composting the leftovers has had a very noticeable impact on the organization. Speaking to how LeanPath has helped reduce food costs at the VA Medical Center, Barbara explained, “I conservatively estimate that we save $40,000 to $50,000 a year in food waste.”

Click the link below to watch the full video and learn how LeanPath and other organizations are helping reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfills.

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CVDL’s Useful Food Waste Info for Businesses

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Food Waste Information Page

The folks at Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership have compiled a nice bit of information on food waste specifically geared towards helping businesses better understand the food waste crisis and what they can do to start addressing it. Included on the webpage are the LeanPath Food Waste Statistics Infographic and an article on how the MGM Grand has reduced food costs by up to $9,000 a month by implementing a food waste tracking system. Head over to the CVDL’s food waste webpage to see these posts and more—you’re sure to find something useful.

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Tips for Minimizing At-Home Food Waste: Optimize Your Refrigerator [Infographic]

For many of us, refrigerators are often taken for granted, despite the fact they are arguably one of the most important appliances in our household. We might not be paying close enough attention to these chow chambers, which can result in prematurely spoiled food and unnecessarily high electricity bills.

To make sure your fridge is operating in tip-top shape, take a look at this useful infographic by PartSelect and Ghergich & Co. It has quite a few tips to making sure your snack shack is organized most effectively and running most efficiently.

Click to enlarge.

Refrigerator revamp guide: Making sure your fridge is running most efficiently

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