According to a 2014 study, restaurants throw away more than 84% of the unused food. The rest of the food waste is recycled and just a small portion–less than 2% –of this unused food is donated. Restaurants can generate a lot of waste–and not all of it is food waste.

Are you interested in reducing your restaurant’s waste and launching a sustainable waste disposal system? Good thinking. When you thoughtfully manage your waste disposal system, your business saves costs, helps the environment, and boosts your restaurant’s brand image.


Read on to discover what restaurant waste really is and how you can set up a successful sustainable waste reduction process.

First, what is restaurant waste?

Restaurant waste isn’t all about food waste. There are several different categories:

  • Pre-consumer food waste: Any food wasted in the preparation process, including animal bones, vegetable peels, and roots, and the like
  • Post-consumer food waste: Any food purchased by the consumer but not eaten
  • Other food waste: This includes leftovers, spoiled food, spilled food, and so on
  • Disposable waste: This includes packaging like cardboard boxes and plastic wrap as well as disposable cutlery or takeout bags and boxes

When you’re looking to reduce your waste and better manage the waste you do generate, all of the above categories must be considered.

Discover these six steps through the RUBICONMethod that your restaurant can take to address every type of restaurant waste.

With our simple acronym, DIVERT, we make it a breeze to implement.

1. Determine

Once you know who’s responsible for managing your restaurant waste disposal process, the next step is to check in on how you’re currently doing. This involves an inventory and waste audit.

All restaurants check in on inventory frequently–but not always through a “go-green lens.” Don’t just make note of what you need to restock; think about if there are any items you could buy in bulk or purchase with less packaging.

The waste audit can include this inventory, as well as going through records of food suppliers, waste management costs, and food log systems. Keep an eye on what items get thrown out often–are they spoiling before they get used? Can they be composted or donated instead?

Once you have a clear idea of what resources you need and what you tend to waste, it’s easier to go on to the next step!

2. Initiate:

Set up a guide on what your restaurant’s waste management policy is. This can include what items can be composted or donated when to throw out items, and other ways to eliminate or reduce food and other waste.

This isn’t just a verbal process! Make sure the guide is written down and distributed to every employee. It can be used in training new team members and mentioned in team meetings.

You can also post shorter guidelines around the kitchen and other workspaces to serve as helpful reminders.

3. Vocalize:

First and foremost, make sure an individual or a clearly outlined team is responsible for leading and managing your restaurant’s sustainability efforts.

Establishing a leader (or leaders!) for this process will add accountability and improve efficacy. Responsibilities of this leader can include overseeing inventories and audits and educating current and new staff members on sustainability efforts.

4. Eliminate:

If your restaurant has the flexibility to adjust its menu, try to pivot it to more earth-friendly dishes. This can mean using more local produce and incorporating more food items that come in less packaging.

You can get creative with your ingredients. Repurpose things like stale bread into croutons and leftover salad veggies into a stew. Plus, you can use all parts of an ingredient, like using the broccoli heads for one dish and the stalks for another.

5. Roll Out:

Your restaurant’s food waste problem could be majorly alleviated by better organization. When every team member knows what food items to use and by when you’ll reduce avoidable waste from spoiled or stale food.

Be sure to date all products and arrange them by their use-by date. Many restaurants put newer food to the right of refrigerators and freezers, so employees know to use the leftmost food first.

When you have food items that are still totally a-okay to eat but you’re not serving them in your restaurant, you can donate them to shelters or food banks.

6. Track: 

Once you’ve set up recurring inventories, a waste management process, and reorganized your kitchen and menu, it’s time to set some new goals. Don’t worry–you don’t have to strive to be a zero-waste restaurant. At least, not yet.

Need some inspiration? Try these:

  • Start a restaurant compost program. Both pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste can be composted!
  • Revamp your receptacles. Set up new, clearly marked containers for recycling, composting, and waste.
  • Get rid of any disposable items for consumers. Say goodbye to plastic straws and styrofoam boxes and say hello to compostable to-go boxes.

Read the RUBICONMethod in full to start developing a more successful waste reduction and recycling program today. Looking for other ways your restaurant can help save the planet? Check out these tips on how your restaurant can save energy, too.