Beyond Compost: Innovative Uses for Food Waste in the Restaurant Industry

By Shannon Bergstrom, Contributor

For the restaurant and hospitality industries, food waste today is a big issue. And while organics have always been the easiest of products to recycle, the sheer amount generated is posing problems for existing recycling systems. Today it is thought that around 44% of global waste is food and organics, a staggering figure of which the US restaurant and hospitality industries contributes approximately 11.4 million tons annually

However, despite the fact that food waste is such a big issue, the way we recycle that waste is still very much stuck in the past. While composting goes back millennia and provides an entirely natural way to recycle organics, this process alone can no longer hope to effectively and efficiently deal with the large amounts of waste created.

Today, however, there are various innovative approaches to using waste products, and there are now companies who will happily take food waste from your restaurant and turn it into something new. It can even help provide new revenue streams for your business, with waste being valued as a commodity in itself. Here, we take a look at some of those innovative approaches and see how food waste recycling is growing beyond compost.

Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds are huge restaurant food waste.

Coffee is big business. It is estimated that retail sales amount to more than $5 billion each year in the US. But as any barista or café owner already knows, that delicious cup of coffee produces plenty of waste. Spent coffee grounds very quickly mount up and often end up in landfill, however, there are a number of companies who are using coffee grounds in innovative new products.

Kaffee Form, the brainchild of German designer Julian Lechner, boasts a range of beautiful “ceramics” made using a process that reconstitutes coffee grounds into beautiful cups, mugs, and plates. The process involves mixing spent coffee grounds with natural glues and woodchips to create a lightweight and very durable material that can be molded into shape.

Another European company making use of coffee grounds is Bio-Bean. This UK-based startup collects coffee grounds from independent cafes, major coffee chains, and universities to create Coffee Logs. These logs are used as fuel for wood burners, stoves and open fires, providing a more sustainable way to heat your home and cook.  

Spent Grains

Beer production creates a huge amount of food waste.

Another popular beverage that produces a large amount of food waste is beer. For every gallon of beer produced, around 10 pounds of spent grain is generated, and considering hundreds of millions of gallons are produced each year, it’s pretty easy to visualize all that spent grain piling up.  

However, spent grain from beer production has a number of applications, and now, there are many companies making use of it. Rise and Regrained are both harnessing the high nutritional content of spent grains to create a range of unique flours and protein bars respectively. They are healthy, sustainable, and offer specialist flavors thanks to a variety of different beer production processes used.

Another company using spent grain for food is Doggie Beer Bones. As the name implies, they use spent grain from San Diego’s finest craft beer breweries to manufacture all-natural dog treats that are packed with nutrition.   

Stale Bread

Some companies have found innovative ways of reusing bread food waste.

Bread is among the most wasted food items in the world. It is thought that in some cases, around 80% of products in bakeries are trashed. Coming full circle, however, Toast is one company turning stale and unused bread into, you guessed it, beer! Toast claims to have upcycled 1141397 slices of bread to date, with all of its profits going to charities that focus on ending food waste entirely.  

Waste bread is also being used to make, perhaps a little unsurprisingly, more bread. Another UK-based company, GAIL’S Bakery, takes yesterday’s unsold loaves, turns them back into breadcrumbs, and then adds a fresh batch of sourdough. The result is a moist loaf with a hard crust, offering a variety of unique flavors depending on the types of old bread used.

Food Donation

Food donations is a great way to combat restaurant food waste.

When it comes to waste food, there’s an outlet that, while not new or innovative, is being given a boost by advancements in technology. Food donation, like composting, has been going on for millennia, however, the complexities of the restaurant and hospitality industries combined with legal restrictions surrounding food waste have led to a system that often disposes before it donates.

Companies such as RTS are beginning to change that, however, using on-demand collection services that provide access to a wide range of vendors. Through a range of custom solutions, on-demand collections can be quickly and efficiently arranged for food donations, a particularly useful service considering the time-sensitive nature of food waste. Once collected, RTS also provides confirmation to your business of exactly where cooked meals and raw ingredients end up. It’s the ideal way to help push your sustainability goals further while helping local communities at the same time. 

About the Author
Shannon Bergstrom is a LEED-accredited, TRUE waste advisor. She currently works at RTS, a tech-driven waste and recycling management company, as a sustainability operations manager. Shannon consults with clients across the hotel industry on sustainable waste practices.