Composting and recycling food waste is growing in popularity in the United States, and it’s because of programs implemented in restaurants, businesses, and homes. The concept of saving and re-purposing food waste is appealing because of its potential to help the environment as well as people in need. We discuss how to recycle food waste and why it’s a good idea.

Why is Recycling Food Waste a Good Idea?

Recycling and composting your food waste has the potential to positively impact the environment as well as your local community. Therefore, it’s a good idea to learn more about how you can recycle the food waste that you produce.

According to an MIT study on food waste recycling, “22 percent of the municipal solid waste dropped into landfills or incinerators in the U.S. is, in fact, food that could be put to better use through composting and soil enrichment.”

By repurposing food that would otherwise get thrown away, you have the chance to reduce the amount of food put into landfills and incinerators. The same MIT study also said this about the increasing popularity of recycling food scraps:

“Since 2010, the food-scrap recycling rate has increased from 2.7 percent to 5.1 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).” – MIT

Five Reasons to Recycle Food Waste 

  1. Saves time and money on trash pickup in cities
  2. Puts organic waste to better use by enriching soil
  3. Helps reduce emissions of methane in landfills
  4. Reduces volume of landfill needed and land needed for landfills
  5. Rescued food can be given to people in need
Outdoor compost pile

Composting Food Waste

One way to recycle food waste is by composting. The process of composting involves collecting organic material and allowing it to decompose in order to create a nutrient-rich soil that can be added back to the earth or used as fertilizer. Composting is a great option for restaurants that grow their own produce or herbs. While composting is more effort, it reduces the need for trash or organic waste pickup at your restaurant.

Steps for Composting 

  1. Start your pile on the bare earth or in a bin of soil. This helps the microorganisms and bacteria to get started and aid in decomposition.
  2. If you start on the bare earth, be sure to lay down things like straw or twigs to help aerate the pile as it decomposes.
  3. Keep your pile covered using a lid, tarp, or even scraps of carpet. This will keep it from getting too wet and eroding away.
  4. Occasionally water to keep moist or uncover during a rain shower. Be sure your compost stays moist, but not too wet or sodden.
  5. Turn your pile every few weeks to incorporate oxygen. Oxygen aids in decomposition and is important for a good compost pile.
  6. Add nitrogen-rich ingredients like grass clippings, clover, or leaves to activate the decomposition process.
  7. When building your pile, alternate between wet and dry layers to help with breakdown of ingredients. 

Tips for Composting 

  • Chop large pieces into smaller ones to help speed up the composting process. 
  • Store your compost in a lidded bin under the sink until you’re ready to add to the large pile outside. 
  • Take your food trash out to compost every day to reduce build-up of odor in your kitchen. 
  • Add garden soil to your compost pile to help with odors and to assist in decomposition. 

When composting, remember that most organic materials can be composted. Read our article on What Food You Can Compost to learn more on the types of things you can add to your compost pile. Print out the infographic to keep an easy reference on hand!

How to Separate Trash

It can seem like a daunting task to incorporate trash separation in your busy commercial kitchen operations. Once you have the right supplies and process in place, it can be easy to start separating your trash! By separating and recycling your food waste, you can reduce the amount of food added to landfills. You can recycle food waste to your compost pile or have a service pick it up on a schedule.

Your kitchen doesn’t need to be the only part of your business that separates trash. If you operate a self-serve or fast/casual restaurant where customers throw out their own scraps, set up some labeled trash bins in your dining area. Encourage diners to throw their scraps in a separate, labeled bin to help with your composting efforts. When the trash is emptied, you can add it to the larger collection bin for pick-up or directly to the compost pile outside.

What You Need to Separate Trash


Item  Note 
Trash Bins for the Kitchen  Look for a rubber or plastic trash bin for easy clean-up. Food waste can get smelly! 
Bin Lids  Be sure to grab a lid for your trash can to keep odors away from your kitchen until it gets picked up or you’re ready to add to your compost pile. 
Trash Can Dollies  These mobile platforms are ideal for moving your heavy trash bins outside to add to compost. This will reduce strain of carrying your trash outside every day. 
Decals/Signs for the Dining Room  Set up labeled trash bins in your dining room to encourage diners to separate food trash from other recyclables. 
Trash Bins for the Dining Room  Look for bins that are smaller for the dining room that you can add labels to for food waste and other disposables. 

Start Recycling Food in Your Business 

Once you have everything that you need to start recycling food, you can implement a plan for your staff to make the task easier. Set up a day of training with the entire staff to learn more about your new recycling program and what everyone is expected to do to make it work. Take a tour of the new supplies and give examples of food that you can and cannot recycle. 

Tips for Your Business

  • Print out the daily tasks of recycling food for reference as your staff gets used to the new process. Include responsibilities like checking trash bins for non-biodegradable items, adding food to compost, or getting waste ready for pickup. 
  • If you decide to start a compost pile, designate a team member to help maintain the pile to ensure the pile is properly decomposing.  

Set Up Organic Waste Pickup

Depending on where you live in the United States, there are several companies that you can work with to pick up your food waste. Like standard trash pickup, organic waste pickup is done on a scheduled basis at your business. See below for US restaurant resources that offer organic waste pickup services.


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More on Food Waste

Want to keep reading about food waste and recycling? Check out our Resource Center to learn more.

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