Waste Not. Increased benefits from decreasing waste

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1 Waste Not Increased benefits from decreasing waste by Mary Lou Santovec More consumers are making purchasing decisions based on people, planet and profits. Recent research from the National Restaurant Association has found that more than half of U.S. consumers said they would choose to dine at a restaurant based on its environmental practices, said Laura Abshire, NRA s director of sustainability policy and government affairs. With the cost of food waste coming in at $165 billion dollars a year according to the National Resources Defense Council, the NRA has listed environmental sustainability and food waste reduction and management as trends to watch in Sustainability is not only good for the community and the environment. It also helps operators save on operating costs, creates additional revenue streams and provides positive tax consequences. Operators don t have to sacrifice profits for the environment. Reduce portion sizes, purchases Consider these statistics from the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FA), a group founded in 2011 to increase donations to food banks and reduce the amount of food that is sent to landfills. (The NRA along with the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute make up the Alliance.) About 25 to 40 percent of food that s grown, processed and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. In 2010, 60 million tons of food waste was generated in the United States with some 40 million tons going to landfill. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly 50 million Americans, including 16 million children, are food insecure. One piece of the sustainability puzzle is to only buy what you need. But good intentions often end up as stashes of ingredients in the back of the house that were bought for dishes that no longer sell. Health concerns and the aging population have many consumers conscious of portion size. Planning ahead, using smaller plates and adjusting recipes to creatively repurpose leftovers (or to cope with high-priced commodities) means reduced costs and less waste. Leftovers won t disappear but packaging can play a significant role in whether food has a longer shelf life or goes to waste. The Food Service Packaging Institute (FSPI), which represents manufacturers who produce front of the house cups, containers, boxes and bags, is reviewing compostable packaging options. We re really taking a look at how we can compost and recycle more of it, said Lynn Dyer, president of FSPI. Food donations: reuse Necessity is not only the mother of invention; it usually leads to innovative solutions. In 1992, a Pizza Hut employee sought to redirect the chain s Personal Pan Pizzas that had exceeded their guaranteed freshness time to organizations that served the needy. That employee eventually left Pizza Hut to create the Knoxville, Tenn.- 26 Wisconsin Restaurateur First Quarter 15

2 based Food Donation Connection. The Connection operates a bit like an air traffic controller with a live call center, said Jim Larson, program development director. The Connection links a restaurant who wants to donate leftover food with a local food pantry or meal site. Once the match is made, the charity can pick up the food for free. Currently the organization has 15,000 donor locations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom with a database of 30,000 charities, 8,000 of which are active. Of course we would like them to donate for all the right reasons, he said, but they are a business and we want to make it worthwhile financially if possible. So operators who donate leftovers to food banks and meal sites can take advantage of tax savings. IRS Form 8283 for noncash charitable contributions allows businesses to earn an incremental deduction for donating surplus food. The tax savings are calculated based on the amount of food, fair market value, direct costs and blended marginal federal and state tax rates, Larson noted. The provision in the tax law has been permanent for C corporations since 1976; for S Corporations, partnerships and sole proprietors, the law is temporary and must be periodically extended. (An extension needs to be approved for donations beyond 2014.) Prepared food can be donated if it hasn t been served. Tax deductions are higher on prepared food than on raw ingredients. The for-profit Connection receives operating funds from a percentage of tax savings that donors earn. If a restaurant doesn t have the income, the Connection will not charge it. For easy record-keeping, restaurants using the Food Donation Connection can track their contributions through its Webbased system called e-log. The charity verifies what the restaurant reports. Safety first for good deeds Food donations got a boost by the passage of the federal Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, which protects donors from civil and criminal liability if they act in good faith. Prior to the law, restaurants threw away perfectly good food because of concerns they would be liable if food wasn t handled properly and caused illness. Wisconsin Statute (2) also protects donors from liability and was enacted as the result of collaborative efforts by A and Second Harvest. Operators are encouraged to follow safe food handling practices for their donations. Charities pick up the food at least once a week; some do it every 72 hours. The Fitchburg and Hilldale locations of the Great Dane Pub donate to Second Harvest Foodbank. We donate from these two locations because these locations offer a Sunday brunch buffet which provides leftovers that we do not have a use for in our regular menu operations, said Erik Bamman, head chef at the Fitchburg location. From each store, we donate anywhere from $100 to $200 worth of food products to Second Harvest weekly depending on the volume of the event that week. continued on page 28 Get a grip... on new products for your business. An all-senses experience that s, hands-down, the event of the year. #everythingfoodservice March 9-11, 2015 Milwaukee, Wisconsin First Quarter 15 Wisconsin Restaurateur 27

3 continued from page 27 From an operator s perspective, Second Harvest and other food banks make the donation process simple. We simply package up what we are donating in containers provided by the food bank on Sunday night and a representative automatically picks it up from our kitchen the following Monday morning, he said. We have been donating weekly since the Fitchburg location opened in 2002 and the Hilldale location in Tax consequences notwithstanding, there s another benefit for restaurants to donate convenience. When operating a demanding, high-volume restaurant, valuable cooler space isn t taken up for any extended time, he said. Pre-scheduled donations also means Bamman and his staff don t need to spend extra time on the phone arranging for pick up. Schreiner s Restaurant in Fond du Lac also donates leftover food but on a situational basis. Extra Thanksgiving pies are donated to local food sites. When a food broker comes in with samples, owner Paul Cunningham, asks brokers to leave samples with him, which he forwards to the local food pantry. We keep it safe and sanitary until it gets in the right hands, he said. Thanks to groups like the Gleaners, leftover food doesn t languish in restaurant freezers. Gleaners is the name we ve given volunteers who give of their time, vehicles and gas to pick up food from places that s delivered to food pantries and meal sites, said Harold Bergeman, food security specialist with the Community Action Coalition for SouthCentral Wisconsin (CAC). The food bank disseminates government surplus so it has a large, walk-in cooler and freezer that allow donations from area restaurants and grocery stores to be stored safely. Gleaners, such as Madison retiree Fritz Krueger who has been with the CAC for 19 years, pick up bakery and food from places like Panera Bread, Red Lobster and Olive Garden. When the University of Wisconsin s Pyle Center, Union South and the Memorial Union host events, they often overproduce food, which a Gleaner will deliver to meal sites. Bergeman noted the program s benefit to restaurants. They re doing a good deed and helping to fight poverty, he said. Since their employees have to handle the leftovers [anyway], why not do something good with it? There are several food donation programs in Wisconsin. Look for one in your area. Organic waste: recycle to energy Reduce, reuse, recycle has been the mantra of the environmental movement since the 1970s. But only two percent of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled compared with 62 percent of paper. Schreiner s Cunningham began looking into recycling the restaurant s organic waste during the 1980s, even contracting for a while with a local farmer to transform it into compost. We tried to do this very green thing when it wasn t very vogue, he said. We waited for something for a long time. Cunningham now has the food waste hauled to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh where it is turned into energy. The university s commercial scale dry fermentation anaerobic biogas system turns food waste diverted from student dining halls, local nursing homes and area restaurants into electricity. Organic waste is the wettest, smelliest and heaviest part of the trash, said Brian Langolf, director of biogas systems and research development, UW-Oshkosh. 28 Wisconsin Restaurateur First Quarter 15

4 It s a complete win-win all the way around We d be fools not to do it. Jennifer DeBolt, The Old Fashioned Bacteria and enzymes feed on the waste and produce methane, a biogas that contributes to global warming. That methane is then turned into electricity. We produce eight percent of the university s power consumption, he said, enough energy to provide electrical service to 220 homes. Some 10,000 tons of organic yard and food waste is diverted from landfills where methane is burned to the biodigester and processed each year. Schreiner s recycles 1,000 pounds of organic waste per week. The wet garbage is placed in six municipal curbside garbage containers, which Sanimax's organic waste collection service picks up and hauls to Oshkosh. Oil for cash Operators can pay a pretty penny to have their garbage hauled away. Cunningham offsets the cost of hauling the restaurant s organic waste by having Sanimax also recycle used cooking oil. Recycling waste oil from fryers can turn out to have a positive impact on the continued on page 30 Any way you slice it... you ve gotta stay cutting edge in foodservice. Carve out a unique new business idea at this all-senses experience. #everythingfoodservice March 9-11, 2015 Milwaukee, Wisconsin First Quarter 15 Wisconsin Restaurateur 29

5 continued from page 29 bottom line. The Old Fashioned restaurant in Madison has been working with Blue Honey Bio-Fuels for some seven years to recycle their cooking oil and they re getting paid for it. It s a complete win-win all the way around, said Jennifer DeBolt, the restaurant s general manager. We d be fools not to do it. The Old Fashioned produces 50 gallons of oil every two weeks. Each night restaurant staff empties the cooled fryer oil into five-gallon containers to transfer to an outside bin. Blue Honey comes in twice a month to vacuum out the bin. There s no maintenance on our part, she said. For restaurants with smaller quantities or no outside storage, the company provides barrels with snap on lids. In addition to the extra money the restaurant receives from the used oil, recycling also saves on rubber mats. Grease will eat away at rubber mats and asphalt, said DeBolt. How much a restaurant makes on their waste oil depends on market demand. If demand for the oil is low, a restaurant might get a check for $20 or $30. At the peak we were paying well for the oil, said John Feyen, co-owner of Blue Honey, noting that restaurants were getting checks for $200 to $300. Getting the word out How do you get the word out about your sustainability efforts? Schreiner s Cunningham posts a sticker in the restaurant s window about its actions. New placemats will explain the restaurant s connection with the UW-Oshkosh biodigester. We re going to tell the world that we are recycling anything we can and keeping it out of the waste stream, he said. The Green Masters Program, part of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, is a recognition, reward and support program for businesses committed to sustainability. It gives them credentials from the outside, said Thomas Eggert, the Council s executive director and a senior lecturer of sustainable business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Blue Honey has received it several times. Like the LEED program for green buildings, Green Masters is based on points and tiers. Businesses are evaluated in nine areas: waste, water, energy, carbon, workforce, governance, community, transportation and supply chain. Steps to success Becoming sustainable doesn t happen overnight. The first step is to do a waste audit. A lot of restaurants don t understand what s in their waste stream, said FSPI s Dyer. About 75 percent of the waste comes from the back of the house; the remaining 25 percent comes from the front of the house. The second step is to do a packaging audit. Are you still using the packaging bought earlier for dishes that have shrunk in size or been taken off the menu? Is the packaging meeting current food requirements? Appropriate packaging can enable sales, she said. It can be a walking billboard for operators. The Food Donation Connection will do a pilot study for operators thinking about donating food. We come in and create a list of opportunities or food they might want to donate, said Larson. It must be both operationally friendly for the restaurant and beneficial for the charity. UW-Oshkosh s Langolf is also willing to do a trial with a potential restaurant to determine if it s feasible to partner with them. The NRA s Conserve Sustainability Education Program offers online tips and best practices for conducting a waste characterization audit. It also offers education and best practices that help reduce waste, save money and protect the environment. Look for an updated version of the NRA s food waste toolkit in Wisconsin Restaurateur First Quarter 15

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