Strategy #5: Reduce food wasting at the food delivery stage

Reduce food wasting at the food delivery stage

5.1 Trayless dining

Whether it’s a buffet or an a la carte system, removing trays from food service institutions has been shown to reduce food waste and related environmental impacts. In a 2008 study by Aramark, a food service provider, researchers measured food waste at 25 colleges and universities on days when trays were and were not used. The institutions generated 11,505 fewer pounds of food waste on trayless days, representing a 25-30% reduction in waste per person. The study also found that trayless dining can save one-third to one-half gallon of water per tray and conserves energy by eliminating the need to heat water to wash trays.

Promotional poster from Minnesota’s Carleton College food waste reduction efforts. Students partnered with food service provider, Bon Appetit, to, among other initiatives, reduce preparation waste, go trayless, and donate edible food waste. Trayless dining at the University of Maine at Farmington & Grand Valley State University in Michigan

5.2 Reduced plate and portion sizes

Your institution can minimize GHG emissions from food service operations by targeting plate waste (the food that consumers leave uneaten on their plates). The average diner doesn’t eat about 17% of meals, and over half of these leftovers are left on the plate to be thrown out. Depending on the type of facility, some diners may not have the opportunity to take leftovers with them, even if desired. Portion sizes are 2-8 times bigger than what USDA or FDA recommends. Between 1960 and 2007, the average pizza slice increased by 70% (by calories) and the average chocolate cookie grew four times in size. Additionally, the average dinner plate grew by 36% in size.[1]

These facts point to great opportunities to reduce food wasting by offering smaller portions and plate sizes, and encouraging diners to purchase more food if they are still hungry. These efforts can also reduce the negative health effects of overeating and will save the institution money on food purchases and food waste disposal costs.

Case Study: Satisfeito

5.3 Repurposed food and use of specials

In food service operations, having zero food waste is next to impossible. With the difficulty of forecasting, changing client tastes, and other unpredictable events, your institution likely has surplus food that has been prepared but never makes it out of the kitchen or off the buffet line. There are many ways to use this excess food in future meals. In addition, there are uses for some of the food preparation waste that is edible. One tactic that food service operators and restaurants employ is the use of specials to consume inventory. If forecasts were off and your facility purchased too much chicken to make baked chicken as a dinner entree, the unused meat can be used in specials such as casseroles, stir-fries, sandwiches, or soups the following day without risk of serving the same meal two days in a row. Buffets, salad bars, made-to-order stations, and vegetable trim waste also result in excess food that may be repurposed (subject to food safety standards).


[1] Gunders, Dana. Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40 Percent of its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council Issue Paper, August 2012 IP:12-06-B.