7 Steps to Managing Food Waste

Managing your food waste is about more than just choosing the right technology. Collection and operational systems as well as communication are all important for success. The ROU has developed the following 7 step process to get your organisation started in developing a successful system to manage food waste.

One of our favourite questions is “compared to what”? Current waste handling and disposal practices are rarely problem free, exposing existing problems can encourage change by revealing that “business as usual” or “do nothing” is not the responsible option.

There are often a range of issues that can be addressed in the process of achieving improved environmental performance. These include Work Health and Safety (WHS) issues, operational inefficiencies, and workplace hygiene issues. You may find that your current waste disposal practices are the greatest cause of staff dissatisfaction and WHS risk in your workplace. You may even find that current practices are causing dissatisfaction and risk for your customers.

1. Set your goal

Define your goals: you need to articulate your general goals to motivate others to join in and work towards a common purpose:

  • What are the issues or problems you want to address
  • What do you want to achieve
  • Where does it fit with your organisational context:
    • Policy drivers
    • Urgent issues or risks that you need to address
    • Current organisational restructuring or programs
    • Waste and recycling contract renewal time frame
  • What would it take to make it happen in your organisation?
  • What will motivate buy-in and support from management and staff?

2. Assess current waste disposal practices and define your objectives

We need to manage the risks associated with food waste, including potential odour generation and pest attraction, and risks to human, livestock and environmental health.

These risks are already present in the materials in your existing waste bins and collection service arrangements – it’s the same food waste, we are simply considering improved collection and management. You need to check what really happens in your workplace right now, you may be unpleasantly surprised at the odours, pests, hygiene and WHS (work health and safety) risks from your existing waste disposal practices.

Your new and improved food waste management system should seek to address risks associated with ordinary waste disposal and recycling practices to support both core business and environmental objectives.

To assess current waste and recycling practices and define your objectives:

  • Review your waste and recycling collection service contract/s and waste collection invoices to understand what you are currently paying for and what you should be getting for your money
  • Observe how frequently waste is really being collected:
    • How many bins do you have and what size are they?
    • Are the bins full when collected?
    • Work out how this translates to a real costs per collection, or cost per week
    • How does this relate to your current service contract, and what options are there in the contract for flexibility or adjustment of services?
    • Who is responsible for keeping bins and/or skips clean?
  • Are you locked in to a contract? What is the contract renewal time frame?
  • Talk to operational staff who physically handle the material and empty the bins to identify problems, risks and inefficiencies
  • Note issues or risks from current practice with odour, pests, hygiene and safe handling
  • Document the real costs, risks, problems, and inefficiencies of current practices
  • Define clear performance objectives for your new system that target your goals and address identified issues with your current waste management system.

3. Quantify how much food waste you generate per week

A waste audit of what’s in your general waste bins can give you a profile of the type of waste you generate, but it doesn’t tell you how much food waste you can practically divert for separate collection and alternative management.

Regardless of the type of on-site technology you select, you’ll need to collect food waste separately as a clean material stream. For most enterprises, the easiest way to quantify how much food waste you can collect is to install dedicated bins in which to collect your food waste separately. Then you can record the weight, volume and type of diverted food waste materials. This if the essential first step before attempting to identify or cost alternative food waste management options.

“How To” guides for quantifying the amount of food waste you generate each week, and signs for locating with your food waste only collection bins are located on the resources and tools page, and we also have a case study detailing how to implement a separate collection system for food waste:

  • Engage staff to identify the most convenient and efficient locations for placing dedicated food waste collection bins and signage
  • Discuss the purpose for separation and collection, including:
    • identify and agree on the range of materials to be collected separately – what’s in and what’s out
    • how the information will be used to improve environmental performance, and
    • how the behaviour of staff as individuals can support the objective
  • Install bins and signs and implement the source separated food waste collection system
  • Record the quantity and type of recoverable food waste you produce per week. The Quick Guide to Estimating Food Waste Quantity provides a summary process for quantifying the amount and type of food waste your organisation generates each week, your facility has gardens or grounds the ROU Information Sheet 5 below provides a more detailed guide to organic waste auditing to work out quantities of all types of biodegradable organic materials (foods, garden vegetation, wood and timber).
  • You need to design your system for peak capacity, so consider seasonal variation in your business and how this is likely to influence the quantity and type of food waste generated.

The results will be used to consider the collection options and to inform options for either centralised processing or on-site processing of food waste.

Consider actions you can take to avoid or reduce food waste, options are detailed on the Love Food Hate Waste website.

4. Assess your site options and available resources

You need to focus on options that can fit into the space you have available. Every business we’ve ever worked with initially says “we have no space”, but this presumes a knowledge of available alternatives and technologies. Additionally, efficiencies are commonly found when current practices are reviewed.

There are obvious differences in scale and opportunity depending on whether you run a cafe on a stand alone property, or whether you are a large and complex site like a resort or a shopping centre. Regardless of your context, you need to focus on making the most cost effective use of available services and machinery. The following considerations should inform the selection criteria for your new and improved system:

  • What space could you potentially use?
  • How big is the area?
  • Is it an efficient location for access and operational use
  • What services are installed there (water, power, drainage, lighting)?
  • Is the location secure?
  • What existing equipment, resources and opportunities can you leverage?

The Quick Guide to Selecting On-Site Processing Technology on our resources and tools page to help you consider constraints and opportunities for your site, and to develop a list of performance criteria (in order of priority) that you can use as an objective checklist to evaluate the merits of different technologies for your specific site. Not all listed criteria will necessarily be relevant for your site or scale, the guide allows you to consider which criteria are relevant to your situation. The Manage Food Waste Directory of technologies provides key information for each listed technology that is directly relevant to shortlisting technologies that meet your criteria for further detailed consideration.

5. Choose technology that meets your needs

Technology selection for collection and processing is the critical decision for on-site management of food waste.

The MFW Directory is your shortcut to quickly identify available technologies, and to shortlist the technologies that are able to process your food waste materials and look like the best fit for your site. Then you can directly contact listed suppliers to work out site specific configuration and price so you can select the best value technology that meets your needs

  • Use the listings on the MFW Directory to identify your preferred technology type, and the specific proprietary technologies on the list that can process sufficient quantity per week of the full range of organic waste materials generated at your site.
  • Shortlist the specific technologies and suppliers that look to be the best fit for your site and situation.
  • Using your performance criteria checklist (step 4 above), contact your shortlisted suppliers and assess their products against your performance criteria.
  • Obtain quotes for the small number of technologies that best meet your site constraints and performance criteria (including installation, commissioning and training) to select your preferred technology
  • If you need direct assistance, you’ll find options for specialised service providers and training to help you develop and implement a plan for your business.

You may be able to implement efficiencies to reduce the quantity of food waste you produce, but for many enterprises food waste is necessarily a large proportion of the waste stream. You may find a centralised facility in your area that is licensed to receive and process food waste, however such facilities are uncommon. See the list of current centralised facilities. If these options cannot solve your issues or meet your objectives, use the MFW Directory to identify and consider on-site options.

Note that technology selection is NOT the first step. The suitability of technology for your site will depend on your situation and objectives – including quantity and type of food waste, available space, services and resources. Suppliers cannot provide you with clear advice unless you can describe your situation.

The first questions suppliers should ask are: how much food waste do you generate each week? what is it – describe the food waste material? what activities and locations generate food waste? how does your current collection and waste service work? what is motivating you to look at alternatives and what are your objectives?

The relevant information is addressed in Step 1 to Step 4 above. If you want technology that will really work for you, if you want real and meaningful advice from suppliers, if you want to obtain firm quotes for the technology and all the components you need to begin at Step 1.

6. Develop your action plan

How much detail is required? Enough to make it work.

No technology will work effectively if staff and clients don’t know how to load and operate it correctly, or if the collection system delivers unacceptable materials. See Resources and Tools for guidance on developing an implementation plan.

Larger organisations are likely to require high level authorisation and may require more detailed documentation for budget approval. Organisations that generate large quantities of food waste should check with relevant authorities before setting up a large scale on-site processing system – above a certain scale of operation you may need to follow environmental controls or seek approval.

  • Plan your site arrangement for efficient work flow using your selected technology, and for access to services (electricity, water supply)
  • Document your operations plan
  • Document your implementation plan – consider a staged transition process

These plans will define resources that must be budgeted for:

  • Calculate your budget
  • Develop a cost benefit analysis and business case
  • Consider the triple bottom line benefits (financial, environmental, health and safety).

7. Action - Implement the plan

Do it. Implement in stages rather than trying to roll out a complete system across a large facility or number of outlets all at once. Focus on the easiest gains initially to build your capabilities and to refine the system before you roll it out more widely:

  • Initiate with the enthusiasts
  • Engage and communicate with operational staff – what’s working well, what can work better
  • Refine and improve
  • Demonstrate to others (including the doubters) that it works
  • Quantify and communicate the benefits to staff and management
  • Integrate into performance reporting
  • Expand implementation of proven operational systems
  • Wave the flag – articles in your internal newsletter, awards for environmental leadership
  • Operate and maintain.

Technologies listed on the Manage Food Waste Directory are for on-site use by institutions, food service enterprises and food processing/manufacturing enterprises, including: property and facilities management, retail malls or centres, hotels and resorts, education institutions, hospitals and aged care facilities, and sport and recreation facilities. All suppliers of commercially available technology are eligible for free listing.

This website lets you benefit from the real world experience of others, and gives you resources and tools to quickly identify available technologies, to shortlist technologies that could work for you, to help you select the most suitable technology that best fits your needs, to develop your budget and internal business case, to develop your implementation plan, and to implement a source segregated food waste collection system and an organics management system.

If you need direct assistance a range of training and services are also available to make improved organics management work for you.