From dining table to dumpster

Food waste in the service and restaurant industry

  The food industry has plenty of behind the scenes content that is hidden from the public view. There is immense bliss – and ignorance – behind not knowing the time-consuming process that takes to make countless meals, yet people will still endlessly consume them. However, anti-waste promoters have exposed the wasteful methods of multi-million dollar food companies, and put their reckless food preparation routines under intense criticism. 

   The Earth’s population is just under the eight billion mark, and of those billion’s of individuals, as many as 828 million of them were affected by hunger in 2022. This grim statistic consists of a large number of people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine. Not to mention the substantial homeless population and suffering individuals from third-world countries. 

“Food is the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills and represents wasted nourishment that could have helped feed families in need,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website explains. 

   War, poverty, and even the weather all have devastating impacts on underdeveloped countries that struggle to provide nutritious food and clean drinking water for their inhabitants. Yet, in places like the United States, food waste is prevalent, and nearly 120  billion pounds of food is thrown out every year. 

“That equates to 130 billion meals and more than $408 billion in food thrown away each year,” discloses the Feeding America website.

 Unfortunately, an astonishing 40 percent of all food in the States is wasted in total.

   Food waste is extensive in every stage of the production cycle. The beginning of all food manufacturing processes begin with the harvesting of materials; regardless of this being the very first step of the process, there is still food waste. For example, farmers across the globe must choose which of their crops to sell and which to keep. If they have sore luck and grow a bad harvest, the whole crop is thrown out. In some cases, bountiful fields of crops are left to rot because of a low demand for that specific harvest in the market, and it is too much to independently sell or consume. 

   Needless to say, the waste does not come to a halt when the raw materials are taken to restaurants and retailers. In some instances, there are problems with transportation where the food products could be damaged or become spoiled en route. 

   When the haul arrives at its destination, the fate of each individual food item is put in the hands of a sorter, whether it be a person or machine, who declares which items are worthy of keeping and which ones are not. Fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, seafood, and dairy products all are sorted into their inevitable groups: the “haves” and “have nots.” From these categories, they are either put into circulation or tossed into the bin. 

   After making it through what would seem to be the final round of scrutiny, food supply companies and restaurants — especially those of the fine-dining variety — take the process a step further. The masters of the kitchen choose only the best of the best products based on color, fragrance, and appearance to use in their cooking lineup. Out of all food waste in America, a whopping 61 percent of it is derived from commercial food preparation facilities, while another 39 percent of the waste is from individual households. 

   Not to mention, while countless meals are being prepared in households and restaurants alike, many of the scraps that most individuals would deem “harmless” could be consolidated together to make another entire serving of food. 

   “Out-of-home waste such as that produced at restaurants, eateries, canteens, snack bars, etc. is the second chief source of food waste. In the U.S., household and restaurant consumption lead to 39 million tons of food wasted each year,” the Ethical Choice website says. “The contributing factors [of restaurant food waste] need to be identified in order to lead to improved sustainability in the entire food industry.”

   As expected, food waste is more prevalent at large restaurants, snack bars, buffets, and celebratory banquets. Roughly 45 percent of wastage in restaurants occurs during the food preparation stages, another 21 percent of waste is due to improper storage and spoilage, and the remaining 34 percent of waste is at the customer consumption stage where clients visiting restaurants leave behind scraps of food on their plates. 

   A recent interview was conducted by The Iced Coffee Hour podcast that featured well-known chef and social media influencer, Joshua Weissman. Weissman is an Austin, Texas native who previously worked in the fine-dining scene for multiple years, and in this extensive interview he mentions the exorbitant amount of waste that occurs in the restaurant industry. 

   “If you saw how much waste there is in a restaurant – it’s sickening,”  Weissman said. “In fine-dining, you want everything to be perfect. Vegetables don’t come perfectly shaped, you have to cut them to be perfectly shaped,” he explains. 

   From his experience, he explained how six industrial sized restaurant trash bins get cycled through the kitchens roughly three to four times per night. In the big scheme of things, if that much waste is produced in a single restaurant in one night, it causes someone to ponder how much unjustified trash is racked up over the span of a year. 

   Despite this rampant widespread issue, most problems are accompanied by solutions, and the problem of food waste is no exception. 

   In places like South Korea, sustainability and recycling laws ensure that up to 95 percent of its food waste is recycled. 

  “Since 2013 all residents have been required by law to discard food waste in special biodegradable bags, into designated waste collection buckets. Each bag discarded is charged a fee, priced according to volume,” the Intelligent Living Website explains. “Not only does this brilliant and simple scheme offer incentives for the people to reduce waste, but it also makes them confront it.” 

   In the United States, there are numerous companies attempting to do their due diligence in the fight against food waste. Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods are two companies that have committed themselves to preventing unnecessary food waste.

    “Misfits Market is dedicated to making affordable, high-quality food more accessible while helping break the cycle of food waste,” as described by their website. Similarly, Imperfect Foods explained that, “Shopping with Imperfect is an easy, everyday way to waste less food and save the resources that went into producing the food in the first place.” 

   Other simple solutions like composting, food donations, meal planning, gardening, and preserving can help lots of sufficient goods from heading to the landfill. To construct a society that is beneficial to its inhabitants and the future of civilization, it might be worth it to try more sustainable techniques when cooking in your own home and being mindful about the concealed practices in restaurants.

   For more inquiries about South Korea’s interesting and innovative sustainability methods, please visit, and