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All About Food Waste

Why Recycle Food Waste?

As a business owner or operator, you play an important role reducing your business’s environmental footprint. Nearly 400,000 tons of waste are generated from Ramsey and Washington Counties businesses and almost 30 percent of that waste consists of food and food-soiled paper. By using organics recycling, restaurants, grocery stores, whole sale food distributors and commercial kitchens can put a lot of waste to good use, keep food waste out of the trash and reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.

Implementing organics recycling programs allows businesses, organizations and schools to expand their recycling programs, ease their burden on the environment, potentially reduce taxes and fees on waste disposal, and show customers that they care about the community.

What Options are There for Recycling?

There are a variety of management options depending on the type of food waste your business generates, including food donation, feeding food waste to farm animals, rendering and composting.

Food Donation or Food-to-People

Food donation or food-to-people is a great way to give back to the community. When your business has high-quality, surplus food that would otherwise go to waste, it can be donated to local food shelters instead. Second Harvest Heartland, a Minnesota nonprofit, salvages enough food to provide over 77,000 meals a year to food shelters.

  • Pro
    • Easy for restaurant staff
    • Helps feed the hungry and “food insecure”
    • Increases customer loyalty
    • Diverts waste from landfills
    • Lowers methane emissions by reducing waste
    • Yields tax savings for businesses
    • Builds employee morale
  • Con
    • There are no cons

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 25 percent to 40 percent of food grown, processed and transported in the United States will never be consumed.

Is my company liable for the product once it has been donated?

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (pdf) was created to encourage the donation of food and grocery products to 501(c)3 certified non-profit organizations. Under this Act, as long as the donor hasn’t acted with negligence or intentional misconduct, the company is not liable for damage incurred as a result of illness. (EPA)

National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Program has a strong national program to assist businesses in their recycling and food waste reduction programing.  


Food-to-hogs programs are an easy way for restaurants to recycle organic material. In this process, all food and drink waste can be collected and sold to farms without being sorted. This type of program is not new; there are many restaurants and schools in the East Metro already doing this. For example, Barthold Farms in St. Francis, Minnesota picks up food scraps on a weekly basis. Each barrel of organics typically costs about $4. Diverting organics from your waste stream can save your business a significant amount of money in trash hauling fees.

  • Pro
    • Easy for restaurant and school staff
    • Allows for food and drink collection 
    • Increases customer loyalty
    • Diverts waste from landfills
    • Lowers methane emissions by reducing waste
    • Yields tax savings for businesses
    • Builds employee morale
  • Con 
    • Does not include paper towels or food stained paper, such as napkins

Here is a list of businesses your business can partner with to coordinate food scrap collection. Using special collection vehicles that cook the food scraps, they eliminate pathogens before the scraps are fed to their hogs.

Food-to-Compost or Organics Collection

As you begin collecting organics, all food waste, paper towels, and food stained paper can be collected in one bin. This means that paper towels from bathrooms and soiled paper napkins can be diverted. Although food does not need to be sorted, liquids cannot be combined with organics. To begin organics collection, contact your current trash hauler to see what organic programs they offer. If you wish to improve or begin organics collection, apply for a Business Recycling Grant through BizRecycling to receive new collection bins and labels, and up to three months of free organics hauling services. 

  • Pro 
    • Easy for restaurant staff
    • Allows for food and paper collection
    • Potential cost saving
    • Easy to promote to customers
  • Con
    • Does not include liquid waste, such as beverages

Many companies provide this service in the East Metro. Contact us or our recycling experts for a current list of providers.

Boston Scientific Previews Organics Composting

Boston Scientific in Arden Hills will be switching its four lunchrooms and other break areas over to composting food scraps and non-recyclable paper. To give employees a feel for what the program would be like, Boston Scientific held a preview day. Here’s a look.

There are a number of local businesses that are recycling organics:

Promoting to Your Customers

Letting your customers know that you care about the environment is another way to say that you care about your customers. Here are some easy ways to promote and inform your customers about your green business through organics recycling. 

Include a note on all menus and printed materials expressing your concern for the environment and your recycling efforts. This could be as simple as a sentence included at the bottom of a menu. For example:

A Great Restaurant is dedicated to all aspects of our customers; all food scraps are diverted from landfills by food-to-animals programs and surplus food is donated to the local community food self.

Social media is another great way to let your customers know about your recycling efforts. Take a picture of your organics collection bin with a caption about diverting waste to compost. Doing this shows that your business is proud, and your customers should be proud to visit your business.

Placing table tents or information cards at each table is a great way to keep guests engaged with your restaurant. Encourage customers to ask servers for more information or what at their table will be recycled.

What Happens to My Food Waste

Food scraps, paper towels and other organic waste are picked up by a hauler who takes them to an organics composting facility where the load is weighed and tipped. Once there, your organics (greens) are mixed into a pile with other organics like leaves or wood chips (browns). Throughout the composting process, naturally occurring microbes break down the mix.

Because we are composting on an industrial scale, you may include meat and dairy products in your organics waste. These are things that would not necessarily be okay to add to a backyard composting bin. After about four months, the compost is ready to be added to garden beds and farm fields to aid in the growth of plants and crops. Additionally, compost is used by landscapers and road crews due to its effectiveness at reducing runoff and preventing erosion. 

Now What

Contact us to see which organics recycling program is right for your business. Up to $10,000 in business recycling grant money is available to off-set the costs of beginning an organics recycling program.