Your team will need to take a hands-on approach and
complete a trash sorting and audit exercise. Schedule
this for the end of the day or shift. You should also do
two or three inspections over the course of a few weeks
to make sure you avoid any anomalous days. Make sure
everyone brings work clothes and that you provide protective gear such as gloves for everyone participating.
At the end of the sort, weigh the materials and cal-
5 Best Practices to Divert Organic Waste
culate what percentage of organic materials could be
captured with food recovery. By establishing a baseline
for your waste streams,
you can more effectively
target reduction and
When you compost
food products you often
reduce your tipping fee,
which can add up quite
a bit for a large facility.
Work with your waste
hauler to complete a cost
benefit analysis. In the fi-
nal analysis, every pound
of waste that you divert
from your garbage will
reduce your tipping costs
at the landfill.
You can also consider
joining the EPA’s Waste-
Wise program as a part-
ner and agree to reduce
or recycle municipal solid
waste throughout your
waste stream. This free
challenge is similar to ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Man-
ager – building owners track their waste generation and
work toward a specific benchmark to improve diversion
Look at waste food as a resource instead of something to throw away. You need to find partners who
see scraps and trimmings as a commodity rather than
refuse. Here are five options to rescue food waste from
your trash bins.
1) Think about food waste before it even hits the table.
Smart use of food is critical no matter the size of
your operations. Purchase and prepare only what you
need, which is easier said than done. Work with colleagues across your organization in dining services to
document how food needs are anticipated and brainstorm ways to make preparation more efficient. For
example, Wartburg College in Waverly, IA, switched
to trayless dining in its cafeterias. Students had to be
more selective about how much food they took, which
ultimately reduced the amount of scraps thrown away
(see case study on page 34).
2) Pre-consumer food that is left over should be donated
to food banks, such as Feeding America. These organizations can pick up items at your facility in many
cases. While there can be concern about the liability of
donating food if someone gets sick, the Bill Emerson
Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was created to
encourage the donation of food and grocery products
to 501(c) 3 certified non-profit organizations. As long as
the donor has not acted with negligence or intentional
misconduct, the company is not liable for damage
incurred as the result of illness.
3) Waste food can be used for livestock, so consider donating or selling the material to a farm or animal feed
producer. In Bartow, FL, a company called Organic
Matters takes in food waste from both high-volume
waste producers and smaller companies. They convert
scraps into feed for chickens and cattle through a dehydration process.
4) One of the best options for organic waste is anaerobic
digestion, which produces energy from food waste. “If
50% of the food waste generated each year in the U.S.
was anaerobically digested, enough electricity would be
generated to power 2.5 million homes for a year,” notes
the EPA. “By anaerobically digesting food waste, two
valuable products – renewable energy and soil amendment – can be generated.” See if your municipal solid
waste or wastewater treatment plant offers this option.
5) Composting is what many first think of when they
consider food waste diversion. There are a number of
composting types: on-site composting, vermicomposting, aerated composting, and in-vessel composting.
Vermicomposting is an interesting solution and is
becoming commercially viable. This option uses red
worms (not nightcrawlers or field worms found in
gardens) that are placed in bins with organic matter
in order to break it down into a high-value compost
Only as a last resort should food be sent to the landfill
or incinerators to dispose of it. There are too many other
opportunities to create a closed loop lifecycle for food
Dina Belon is the director of the Seattle office at Paladino
and Company, a sustainability consulting firm. She is a
LEED Accredited Professional with an Interior Design &
Construction specialty. She can be reached at