Reducing Food Waste

Decreasing what we send to the landfill, to cut our greenhouse gas emissions

At Bon Appétit, we hate food waste with a passion. It’s a big contributor to climate change. Wasting food means you’re also wasting all the energy it took to grow, harvest, transport, and cook it. In addition, food decomposing in landfills releases methane, the greenhouse gas that is 20 to 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, landfills are the largest human-related source of methane in the United States.

As part of our Low Carbon Diet program, Bon Appétit launched a 12-week Food Waste Reduction campaign in all cafés nationwide. By April 2009, we reduced food waste generated in our cafés by 30% through

  1. educating chefs and kitchen staff on proper portioning and prepping techniques,
  2. a daily waste-monitoring program in all kitchens, and
  3. a consumer-waste reduction educational campaign, which included weighing and measuring food at dish return stations and encouraging trayless dining where appropriate.

As a result of these efforts, we achieved a weekly reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions between 40 and 50 tons.

We are proud to have been able to keep our food waste tonnage down since. Currently, the teams at our cafés divert more than 40 percent (by weight) of what remains of their food waste from landfills. We try to stop waste from happening in the first place by:

  • Preparing food from scratch. We encourage snout-to-tail and stem-to-root cooking by making all of our own stocks and soups — great destinations for bones and vegetable trimmings.
  • Batch cooking. Our vegetables are prepared in batches at the last possible minute and served in the smallest possible quantities to ensure both freshness and minimize waste.
  • Talking people out of trays. In 2005 our general manager at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine pioneered trayless dining after he found he could cut consumer waste dramatically simply by removing the trays from the café. Trayless dining is now a nationwide movement — dozens of our college dining halls and corporate cafés have tossed their trays. Going trayless encourages people to take just what they can eat, not what they can carry, and substantially cuts down on post-cooking food waste.

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    A Wheaton College student prepares to go trayless

Even though we’re proactive, there is always inevitably some food going to waste. We try to find alternative uses and destinations for it by composting and recycling. We compost food waste on site and through municipal programs; we send scraps to Farm to Fork partners (for animal feed or composting) and waste fryer oil to biofuel processors. In fact, a handful of our catering vans run on waste vegetable oil from our cafés! And in 2013, we began a concerted campaign to promote food recovery partnerships.

USF student Kathleen Shelton helps guests sort their waste into the right bin

USF student Kathleen Shelton helps guests sort their waste into the right bin

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