Studying Waste

A friend sent me this useful waste diversion presentation created by the Biodegradable Products Institute. The Power Point doc, which takes a bit to load, has some eye-opening statistics about how much food is in our trash.

In slide six, we see that food scraps make up the largest portion of the waste stream. It’s the second largest portion in the EPA data, however, because they lump togther all paper waste. Either way, the top three landfilled items can (and should) be composted.

Slide eight tells us that full service restaurants waste more food than fast food eateries. Food scraps make up 66 percent of restaurants’ trash, compared to 52 percent at fast food places.Woman enjoys salad atop The Beanstalk (a.k.a. The Cheesecake Factory). Photo by gizzypooh.

I’d guess that’s largely because fast food has much less on-site food prep scraps and plate waste. For example, there’s no chopping of lettuce for a Big Mac and less of that Big Mac goes uneaten, compared to the swimming pool of salad at The Cheesecake Factory.

In happier news, Americans seem willing to compost. Slide 11 indicates that 86 percent of those polled would be “very willing” or “somewhat willing” to separate compostable items for collection.

I know, I know–there’s that saying about ‘good intentions,’ but even if only the “very willing” (55 percent) composted, that would take a huge bite out of greenhouse gas emissions.

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  1. Rosa
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    A restaurant with reusable plates & napkins may waste more food as a percentage of its total trash just because it throws away less other waste.

    Not that any of these numbers are okay. Just that the percentage doesn’t necessarily mean full-service restaurants throw out more food in absolute terms.

  2. Jonathan
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    You’re right that a higher percentage of food scraps doesn’t necessarily mean they throw out more food. But in this case, I’m pretty sure they do, based on slide 8. Full-service restaurants throw out more food per employee per year and a higher percentage of that is food.

    You could make a case that full-service restaurants have more employees…but I’m not even sure that’s true and that’s getting too detailed for my liking. I’ve never liked the waste per employee estimates–partly for that reason–but they’re pretty common.

  3. Posted March 16, 2008 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Bottom line, we throw way too much compostables into the bowels of the earth. The statistics raise our awareness of how much. As individuals we must each take that awareness to the next level and make our own decisions on how to have an effect on those statistics.

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