September 09, 2021

86 Food Waste: Diverting waste from the landfill

Food Waste

Many businesses accept food waste, including local compost companies; find them at

The National Restaurant Association’s 86 Food Waste initiative outlines actionable steps to help restaurant operators reduce food waste. The report incorporates research from sustainability specialists, including partnerships with the World Wildlife Fund and the support of Essity/Tork. Diversion encompasses a strategy restaurant operators can adopt to effectively repurpose food waste.

Even after reengineering menus, adopting supplier and storage best practices, and other food-waste-reduction strategies, restaurant operators are still unlikely to achieve 100% food use. 

But the landfill doesn’t have to be the end of the road for uneaten or expired food or prep trimmings. Once food reaches the landfill, it truly no longer has value. Worse, its decomposition produces potent greenhouse-gas emissions, contributing to climate warming.  In the U.S. alone, the production of food that ends up lost or wasted generates the equivalent of 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the WWF.

The solution? 

A growing number of states are structuring laws to ban organic waste in landfills. Restaurant operators can help by diverting food waste to businesses that recycle waste back to the food growing system. 

Here are the steps:

Step 1. Learn the local regulations

Each locality has different rules regarding the use of food waste. Contact your local waste hauler and/or state or local environmental office for details and advice on local options to divert food waste from landfills. Find out what the grocers and big-box stores do in your area.

Step 2. Explore resource-diversion solutions 

There are many businesses that accept food waste, from local compost companies (see to utility facilities that convert waste to biogas for energy use. Food waste can be recycled into the soil or repurposed as animal feed. Studies show that feeding food waste to pigs can save 20 times more carbon than the next-best recycling method!

Step 3. Implement a resource diversion program

After lining up resource-diversion partners, you can begin to implement a waste management program. Resource-diversion partners often have specific requirements of what they can or can’t accept, and part of those requirements might include a “food waste only” rule (no other kind of waste is acceptable). It takes planning, fool-proof sorting setups and education to convey the requirements to staff and customers. Design clear and specific guidance on food separation practices and reinforce that guidance through training and communication.

Step 4. Collect and track data

Track your progress by collecting data. Taking weight measurements and recording observations work as do more complex analysis suggested/conducted by resource partners. This data can contribute to a holistic understanding of your operations and identify areas for improvement. 

For in-depth insights on the successful implementation of resource diversion programs, explore the 86 Food Waste Report, which also contains 6 other effective strategies for tackling food waste in restaurants.