Waste Not: New Reasons to Keep Food Out of Landfills
It’s no secret that sustainability is becoming a higher priority for consumers. That, however, doesn’t mean it’s easy to get sports fans to put paper and plastics in the right bins as they are exiting the venue. But going green can pay off for stadiums, restaurants and other foodservice operators.
Case in point: A recent survey found one in five Americans would be more likely to buy concessions at a venue if they learned that all of the trash left behind was recycled or composted. On the other side: One quarter of Americans said they’d buy fewer concessions if the venue was sending all of its waste to the landfill. This finding is not surprising, given that waste is a very tangible issue to consumers. Questions around what happens to a paper cup or plastic spoon after it has been used engage consumers in a different way than whether the light bulbs overhead are energy-efficient. (Not that anyone is knocking energy efficiency!) For this reason, waste diversion and food packaging represent a unique opportunity for foodservice operators to share an environmental message and build positive brand associations. It pays to be green.
If shifting consumer preference isn’t enough, the regulatory landscape is increasingly requiring waste diversion. As of this year, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont are all requiring large generators of food waste – such as universities and large hospitals — to divert it from landfills. Alternative end-of-life scenarios include donation, commercial composting, or anaerobic digestion. Compliance thresholds are based on the amount of organic waste generated by the establishment. For example, businesses in Massachusetts that generate one ton of food waste per week must comply, while the rule applies to companies generating about twice that in Vermont and Connecticut. In addition, Vermont is joining the Canadian provinces of Vancouver, Quebec, and Nova Scotia in aiming to ban all organic waste from landfills. By 2020, Vermont will no longer accept food scraps at its landfills – from businesses or residents.
This trend is not limited to states, as many municipalities are now implementing their own rules. In 2009, San Francisco required residents and businesses to sort waste into landfill, recyclables, and compostables. In 2011, Portland, Ore. banned weekly trash pick-ups and shifted to bi-weekly collection, while mandating weekly collection of organic waste such as food scraps. More recently, in late 2013, New York City passed a law requiring large food-scrap generators to divert food waste from landfills beginning in 2015. This applies to the Big Apple’s foodservice operations of varying sizes, including restaurants that are 7,000 square feet or larger. Finally, beginning in spring 2015, Minneapolis will require its foodservice establishments to offer recycling or composting options to its customers.
Whether foodservice operators are engaging in waste diversion voluntarily or by law, their efforts must take human behavior into account. Take a peek in any bin for recycling or composting at a restaurant, festival, or venue, and you’re likely to see a lot of contamination – the wrong stuff in the wrong bin. Unfortunately, as a group, we humans are unlikely to properly sort waste when we’re at a ballgame or hospital cafeteria. (Many of us are in a rush or distracted; we’re not trying to make trouble.) For this reason, simplification is key when developing waste diversion programs that engage consumers.
A big part of the waste-diversion equation in foodservice is disposable packaging. There are two routes an operator can take: recyclable or compostable packaging. Given that food is another significant part of the waste stream, it is important to think about how these two streams impact one another. Recyclers see food as a contaminant and composters see it as a nutrient. Simply put, recyclers don’t want food and composters do.
Given this, recyclable materials need to be separated from food. As noted before, expecting people to put the right thing in the right bin is an uphill battle. Asking them to separate that half-eaten hamburger – or worse, the nacho cheese – from its container is an even taller order. On the other hand, compostable foodservice packaging and any leftover food can go in the same bin. For this reason, many stadiums, schools and restaurants are turning to compostable packaging. It’s simpler for them and their customers. While waste diversion isn’t rocket science, it pays to make it as easy as possible for everyone.
Sarah Martinez has spent over 14 years working in the corporate sustainability field. She currently serves as Sustainability Maven for Eco-Products, a leading producer of foodservice packaging made from renewable resources and post-consumer recycled content.
Energy Manager News
- Two Critical Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Current Energy Contract
- Pepco and Exelon Say Customers Have Benefitted$440 Million Since Merger
- ICC Issues Stringent Consumer Protection Rules For Retail Electric Suppliers
- Tesla’s Battery Storage Device Put to Use. Time to Exhale?
- Variable Speed Drives are a Powerful Efficiency Tool
- Veolia Checks Into the UK’s Tallest Hotel
- Massachusetts Aims for Critical Care Resiliency
- State of Michigan and MISO Propose Retail Capacity Charge