May 1, 2001

6 Min Read

Michele R. Webb

“If the donated product causes harm to the recipient, the donor is protected against civil and criminal liability because the food was donated in good faith, according to WasteCap.”

The old adage about only putting on your plate what you can eat rings true when you consider that one-fourth of the food produced goes to waste and that the annual value of the food wasted is approximately $31 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.

Of course, food disposal is costly, especially for those who generate large quantities of food waste. To help large food waste producers, Milwaukee-based WasteCap Wisconsin published “Business Food Waste Briefing Paper: Options for Grocers, Restaurants and Food Processors.”

As WasteCap points out in this booklet, several benefits are derived from diverting food waste including:

  • Reducing disposal and hauling costs. Costs will vary greatly depending upon the type of waste being disposed of. However, the national savings of managing food waste over conventional disposal methods is $9 per ton to $38 per ton, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

  • Supporting the local economy by creating new jobs. If a community develops a composting infrastructure, many new jobs can be generated, for example, through establishing a composting facility.

  • Decreasing the amount of material being sent to landfills. Most food waste is sent to landfills, so if it is composted, landfills will benefit from lower leachate and methane management costs while conserving air space.

  • Helping feed the homeless community. Many Americans depend on food donations. Therefore, contributing edible perishable and nonperishable items to a local shelter can lessen the dependency on landfills while feeding the hungry.

  • Improving soil with compost. Compost improves the fundamental properties of soil, reduces pesticide use and helps water conservation.

Also detailed in WasteCap's manual are steps on how to:

  • Prevent and rescue food waste;

  • Use food waste as animal feed;

  • Compost with worms or vermicomposting;

  • Set up a basic vermicomposting system;

  • Examine off-site composting;

  • Manage container or in-vessel composting;

  • Use the processed food waste; and

  • Set up a food recovery program.

To prevent and rescue food waste, companies should examine the contents of their food waste stream first, according to WasteCap. As a result, a company may find ways to cut costs by improving its food preparation procedures, such as not using certain items like garnishes; offering a wider selection of portion sizes; and checking perishable expiration dates more carefully.

Second, WasteCap recommends that a company find an organization that accepts food items such as a shelter or food bank. Some organizations will voluntarily pick up food discards, which leaves little, if any, donor costs.

The biggest concern many companies have when donating food is potential liability. For example, will a donor be responsible for food that is contaminated or harmful? As a result of this issue, Congress enacted the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act in 1996 to protect food generators who provide a food donation or grocery product to nonprofit organizations. If the donated product causes harm to the recipient, the donor is protected against civil and criminal liability because the food was donated in good faith, according to WasteCap.

The publication also points out another way to prevent food waste: salvaging food processing scraps. WasteCap defines these scraps as the remnants of large amounts of processed food that becomes waste, “because it is inedible or does not meet quality standards. Food processing wastes have proteins, fats, nutrients and other useful raw material that can be [used] in various ways.”

Instead of tons of discards from around the county being dumped into landfills, some of the waste can be made useful through a little ingenuity.

The booklet suggests that communities identify the food manufacturers in their area who produce this type of waste as a byproduct. For example, WasteCap states that Wisconsin cheese producers are using parts of whey, which is the milk liquid that separates from curds, as a protein supplement in snack foods; as the lactose sugar fraction in baking; and in infant formulas and pharmaceuticals.

Food processing wastes are high in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients that can be used without additional processing as fertilizer, with the exception of inedible animal parts, according to WasteCap. However, the food wastes must be properly mixed into the soil to avoid odor and groundwater contamination. And any food waste that can be used as fertilizer can be composted. Also, solid waste generated by meat and vegetable processors have been used as animal feed for years.

In one example, the brochure describes four organizations that work together to use byproducts. Kenosha, Wis.-based companies Pheasant Run Recycling and Disposal Facility, Kenosha in Neighborhood Works (KIN), Ocean Spray, and Maple Leaf Farms pooled their resources to produce a high-quality byproduct compost — Father Dom's Duck Doo Compost — from fruit, duck manure, poultry waste and more. As a result, more than half of Ocean Spray's waste is diverted from landfills.

WasteCap also offers tips on how to establish a food recovery program, which entails:

  • Ensuring support and coordination. Secure upper management's approval and support for a food waste diversion program. Designate a coordinator to educate staff members and monitor efforts.

  • Determining the amount of food scraps available for diversion. Weigh and track the amount of food waste generated. Consider what type of compostable material is generated. Can materials be easily separated? For example, fruit and vegetable scraps are easy targets for separation because they quickly can be separated from a grocery store's preparation area.

  • Determining applicable markets. For example, can you donate leftovers to a food bank? Is it feasible to vermicompost? Can a nearby facility use the food discards as compost?

  • Developing a collection method. Set aside time for someone to arrange the collection process. Is there a farm or plant nursery that will pick up the food discards? Also, make sure the collection methods' economics work for your company or municipality.

  • Training employees. If staff is aware of proper separation procedures, operations will run more smoothly. After an initial training session, be sure to allow for follow-up questions and suggestions or further training, if necessary.

  • Monitoring the system, making changes, celebrating successes. Periodically check materials being discarded to ensure proper disposal. If a problem exists, remind the person responsible of proper procedures. Lastly, promote the program's success to managers, employees and the public.

To obtain a copy of “Business Food Waste Briefing Paper: Options for Grocers, Restaurants and Food Processors,” call (414) 961-1100 or e-mail [email protected].

For more information about managing food waste, visit

Michele R. Webb is a free-lance writer based in Kansas City, Kan.

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