According to new research released this week by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, the industry is succeeding in the grocery and food-manufacturing spaces. But hurdles remain, particularly in the restaurant industry.
Throughout the food industry, companies want to ensure they’re working to reuse and recycle what they can.
The latest benchmarking report from the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), a joint project of the Food Marketing Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and the National Restaurant Association, reveals the good—and the not-so-good—in the industry’s waste-reduction efforts. Highlights from the report [PDF], completed by the nonprofit think tank BSR and released this week:
Success with manufacturing: The biggest bright spot is the food-manufacturing sector, where 93.4 percent of all food produced in 2013 was recycled, and 1.5 percent was donated. The study cites the centralized nature of manufacturing facilities as one reason recycling is so effective. “Higher food waste volumes per location allows for greater economies of scale when recycling food products, leading to a focus on recycling as the primary diversion method,” the study states. Most of what is diverted ends up as animal feed (86.8 percent), with land application (3.5 percent) and composting (2.0 percent) other common ways of recycling food. The study notes that more isn’t donated due to regulatory requirements or sheer scale.
Retail a boon for donations: More than half of all food waste from the retail and wholesale sectors was thrown away in 2013 (57.6 percent), but there was good news, too: According to the study, 13.2 percent of recycled food was donated, and 29.2 percent was recycled. The reason for the lower level of recycling and higher level of donating compared with manufacturers boils down to differences between the two sectors. “Packaged products are more suitable for donation and are often harder to recycle, because most recyclers require that the packaging be removed,” the study notes. “The predominance of finished food products is one of the factors contributing to retailers’ and wholesalers’ higher donation rate.” (The numbers—particularly for recycling—improved between the 2011 and 2013 versions of the study, but differences in the research respondents between the two studies did not allow for a direct comparison.)
Food waste a challenge for restaurants: The study pulls no punches in highlighting the recycling struggles in restaurants. In 2013, restaurants threw away 84.3 percent of their food waste, recycled 14.3 percent, and donated just 1.4 percent. The diverse nature of the restaurant industry is a big factor. “It can be more challenging for companies with a franchise-based business model to centrally track food waste and institute system-wide food waste programs, as individual franchises may use different donation, recycling, and disposal partners, depending on their location,” the study explains. “At the same time, though single-unit restaurants are more centralized, it can also be difficult for smaller organizations to dedicate the resources and staff time necessary to manage food waste programs.” Restaurants also cite a combination of transportation constraints, liability risks, and regulatory issues as reasons they can’t do more.