Food waste has become a topic for increasingly urgent discussion within the hospitality and foodservice sector (HaFS). Foodservice businesses are responsible for a significant 26% of the 931 million tonnes of global food waste every year estimated by the UNEP 2021 Food Waste Index. This burdens waste management systems and is a major contributor to the climate crisis, pollution and food insecurity. 

It is evident that the HaFS needs to find smarter ways to minimise food waste. While the best way to tackle the issue is to prevent food waste to begin with, any food business also needs to have a plan in place for using food that isn’t eaten. Implementing a system for composting in your business is one way you can begin.

What is composting?

Composting is a natural process that decomposes organic waste using nitrogen, carbon, oxygen and moisture. This process turns waste into a dark, nutrient-rich material called compost, which can be added to soil to help plants to grow quickly.

What are the benefits of composting?

More restaurants are beginning to compost their organic waste due to a number of financial and environmental benefits.

  • The environmental argument: Composting in your restaurant helps to reduce your overall carbon footprint and environmental impact, in a number of ways. Firstly, it minimises the amount of food waste going to landfill — one of the biggest contributors of methane to our atmosphere. Furthermore, huge amounts of water, fossil fuels and energy are demanded by the processes of growing, producing and transporting food; when that food is wasted, so are these resources. Compost also greatly improves soil fertility without the need for chemical fertilisers. 
  • The cost argument: Composting reduces the volume of rubbish your business produces, potentially reducing your waste removal bill.
  • The local food argument: Your composting scheme can form the beginnings of a restaurant garden, however small. If you don’t have the space or resources to use the compost yourself, talk to some of the farmers who supply your kitchen to see if they’re interested in collecting and using it, or donate it to your local community garden to strengthen your business’ ties with your community.
  • The marketing argument: When carried out with integrity and transparency, the sustainability work you do in your establishment can provide a valuable marketing opportunity. Be sure to include news of your composting scheme on your social media, website, newsletter or blog.

What can I compost?

The majority of food scraps and paper products can be composted. However, since your space and equipment are likely to be somewhat limited, it’s best to be selective in what you compost. Below is a list of waste that you may find in your business that can be easily composted:

Do compost:

  • Fruits, vegetables, grains and roots
  • Baked goods
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Eggshells
  • Nutshells
  • Cardboards

Don’t compost:

  • Dairy products
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Bones
  • Oils, fats, lards and greases

Fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food — up to 40-50%. If this rings true in your kitchen, then having a composting system in place could drastically reduce the waste produced in your business.

How can I compost in my restaurant?

Composting requires very little equipment and a small amount of education and dedication to yield positive results. However, before you begin to compost at your business, it’s essential that you check composting regulations. Depending on where your business is located, there may be local guidelines that regulate on-site composting in your area.

It’s important to use the proper technique when composting to ensure organic materials decompose quickly and effectively. Below is a step-by-step process on how to compost in your business:

1. Choose a compost bin. Many compost containers are designed to provide proper airflow and moisture, helping to transform the organic materials into compost. When choosing which compost bin is right for your business, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this the right size for my restaurant’s needs?
  • Does the bin allow oxygen to circulate amongst materials?
  • Is it easy to load and unload?
  • Does the container allow me to easily mix and turn the compost?

2. Find a location for your compost container. Choose an appropriate location that’s accessible to staff but removed from the dining area, ideally one with some ventilation.

3. Training is key. For composting to be successful in your restaurant, it is essential to get staff involved. Explain why you’re implementing the composting process, explaining it thoroughly and taking the time to answer any questions. 

4. Set up for prep. Provide chefs with small buckets that they can keep on their station for collecting compostable materials while they prep. You may want to add signage to remind staff what can be composted and what can’t.

5. Add some soil to your compost bin. The soil adds bacteria which allows organic waste to quickly compost.

6. Add layers of food waste (‘green waste’), alternating with ‘brown waste’ such as cardboard. Chopping all of the components into small pieces will help speed up the composting process.

7. Keep your compost moist. Occasionally water your compost to guarantee that it’s moist. The moisture helps break down the organic matter.

8. Mix the compost. Turn the compost once a week to provide it with the necessary oxygen it needs to decompose; you can use a garden fork, shovel or compost aerator. When mixing, check for moisture and add water if necessary to make sure it stays slightly damp. 

That’s it! The process can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year. You will know the compost is ready for use when it’s dark and rich in colour and has a crumbly texture.

For more ideas on how to introduce sustainable practices into your food business, check out our blog or follow us on social media @Nutritics.