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Step-by-Step Guide to Managing Your Business’s Food Waste

If you generate large amounts of food waste, this is the place for you. Remember food waste is not waste, but a valuable resource when handled properly. Before starting down the path to better food waste management it is important to:

  • Set team goals and have management buy in
  • Connect with your current waste management or hauling provider to inquire about organics service in your area. To learn more about having this conversation, check out our page About Organics Hauling.  We also have a growing list of haulers in New York that offer organics collection, check it out here.

Follow the steps below to get started with reducing your food waste and finding diversion options in your area.

Step 1: Estimate your food waste quantities

First you need to get an idea of how much food waste is being generated at your business.

  • You can use food waste estimation tools to get an idea of how much food waste you might be generating based on averaged data from similar businesses. 
  • To obtain more accurate data, consider conducting a food waste audit. This will give you a more accurate picture of your generation rates.

Step 2: Identify the types of food waste generated and your waste generation points

Knowing the type of food waste generated at your business will go a long way in helping to either focus your reduction efforts or choose a diversion method.

  • The type of business you run will likely give you a good idea of what type of food waste you’re generating. For example, a restaurant may have mostly prep waste and plate waste. A grocery store, on the other hand, may have packaged food, produce, prep waste and plate waste.
  • Conducting a food waste audit is a great way to get an accurate picture of the type of food you’re generating.  Once you get a clearer picture of the amount and type of waste you’re generating, you can target your efforts.

Step 3: Consider your options

When considering your options, the food recovery hierarchy should be followed as much as possible. The most benefit, both economic and environmental, will always be found by preventing waste from happening in the first place. However, many businesses choose to start diverting first before moving to source reduction efforts, because diversion techniques are typically easier to implement.  Various factors are involved with choosing a diversion method; such as type of food waste, distance from a waste processing facility, and cost of disposal.

  1. Source Reduction:
    Source reduction efforts are where the most cost saving opportunity will be realized. By preventing the waste from happening in the first place, you will avoid the cost of purchasing, handling, preparing and disposing your food waste. Read more about what to consider on the source reduction page.
  2. Donating Food:
    Many types of foods can be donated via the food bank network in NYS. Food rescue operations are even starting to take prepared food as well. Many food donation businesses will require food to be frozen for at least 24 hrs before being donated. So, available storage capability at your facility is something to consider. Read more about what to consider on the donate food page.
  3. Animal Feed
    Typically large streams of low-moisture content food (e.g. bakery waste) is well suited for conversion to animal feed, because the energy required for drying is low. However, there is only one facility doing this in NYS right now. Higher moisture content food can be fed directly to animals, but there are strict regulations on what types of food are suitable for direct animal feeding in New York State. Read more about what to consider on the feed animals page.
  4. Industrial Uses
    Most types of food are able to be processed through the major types of industrial processes such as anaerobic digestion or rendering. Some exceptions may include paper waste and other biodegradable ware. Higher prices are sometimes charged for accepting packaged waste because of the associated costs of de-packaging. Read more about what to consider on the industrial uses page.
  5. Composting
    Industrial sized compost facilities will usually accept any type of food retail or service waste, however this varies slightly by facility. Like for industrial uses, some exceptions may include paper waste and other biodegradable ware. Read more about what to consider on the compost page.

Step 4: Locate your nearest diversion facility

You should now have a good idea of what the different options are for reducing and diverting food waste. Source reduction efforts will take place in-house, but if you decide that diversion is a good fit at your business you’ll need to locate a facility to work with. An important factor in choosing a diversion method is travel distance. In the future, when waste processing facilities are more widely distributed, choosing the diversion method would be less affected by location and more determined by the type of waste and the desired outcome. Click on the map below to find the nearest food waste recycling facility to you.

Organic Resource Locator


Step 5: Start source separating your food waste

Behind all successful food waste diversion is an organized system of collecting food waste. The diversion facility you work with will likely have recommendations on what type of collection bins to use and may even provide them. Obtaining the bins is the first step, to source separation, but you’ll have to work internally to set up a system that works for your business. Read more about how to do this on the source separation page.