Waste Not, Want Not
Late chef, TV personality and NJ-native Anthony Bourdain was passionate about more than just the culinary trade. In 2017, he worked on a documentary called “Wasted!” in which he offered up an honest commentary about food waste around the world—noting its impact on deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change. The film addresses home cooks, food producers and Bourdain tapped professional chefs such as Massimo Bottura and Dan Barber to weigh in. His message to the restaurant industry as a whole, not surprisingly, was to “be more clever.” This includes composting scraps, cooking nose-to-tail and using that so-called ugly produce.
Locally, Hudson County has made several strides towards improving the environment. There are bans on carry-out plastic bags, styrofoam containers and Hoboken even went as far as to provide electric scooters as a means of transportation. Us residents and local businesses do our part to take out the trash and recycling, but we still have a ways to go when it comes to composting and more importantly, reducing food waste.
Not only does food waste take a toll on our expenses (the average household loses roughly $1,500 a year on wasted food), it also has real negative consequences on the environment. The biggest culprit, not surprisingly, being the restaurant industry. From kitchen scraps that get discarded during prep to customer leftovers, it’s all being tossed in the trash to later end up in landfills or incinerators, contributing to the increase of dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Methane in particular, which is known to be over 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
That’s not to say, however, efforts haven’t been made to lower our ecological footprint. In 2014, the Hudson Valley’s Community Compost Company (CCC) made its mark on Northern New Jersey as the first-ever food scrap recycling service. For the past six years, the CCC has teamed up with several eateries around Hoboken and Jersey City, and actually partnered with the city’s themselves, to implement composting initiatives and food waste reduction programs.
“As a socially minded entrepreneur, Eileen Banyra, our founder and CEO, started Community Compost Company to lead the change on food waste, climate change and soil health by offering residents and businesses the opportunity to ecologically dispose of their food,” explained Andrea Rodriguez, Sales & Marketing Manager at Community Compost Company. “Prior to CCC, there was no composting service available in Hudson County. To date, we’ve recycled over 2 million pounds of food waste.”
To put it into perspective, food waste that comes specifically from restaurants makes up 15 percent of all the food that ends up in landfills. While better waste management in the kitchen can’t do anything to eliminate what’s already accumulated, composting takes those remnants and aids in the natural cycle of returning those nutrients back to the earth. Not only does that create fertile soil (to grow new, healthy food), it also minimizes food waste, makes renewable energy and lessens further landfill pileup.
Ways in which restaurants can impart no-waste efforts include composting dairy, bones, meat, fruits, vegetables, pasta, poultry, rice, seafood, drink garnishes and more. “The restaurants we partner with are committed to protecting the communities they do business in,” said Rodriguez. “They understand the environmental issues associated with food waste, and they make the decision to add another monthly expense to their operation because they know composting is the right thing to do.”
A 2019 report by Champions 12.3 entitled, “The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Restaurants,” revealed that restaurants would save $7 on average for every $1 they invested in programs to reduce food waste in the kitchen. This included measuring and monitoring the amount of food wasted, training staff on food handling and storage procedures and redesigning their menus. The study was completed in 114 restaurants across 12 countries and found that within just one year, nearly every participant had reduced their food waste by 26 percent on average. At the same time, more than 75 percent had also made back their investment—the cost of change totaling approximately $20,000. Concluding that not only is food waste reduction ethical, it’s also an essential business model.
A few of the CCC’s Jersey City partners include Busy Bee Organics, The Archer, Barcade, Bucket & Bay, Subia’s Vegan Café and Low Fidelity Bar. These establishments are given a 48-gallon bin to fill and put out on pick up days, much like your standard trash and recycling service. CCC then comes by to collect and drop off a new bin in exchange.
“In Hoboken, we partner with the city to offer eateries food scrap collection,” Rodriguez explained. “The city collects the material from businesses and we compost it on our facility in the Hudson Valley.” Their Hoboken clientele includes favorites such as Choc-o-Pain, Black Rail Coffee, Simply Juiced and Hudson Table, to name a few. They also provide signage of what and what not to compost, metrics of the amount of food recycled per week and even offer staff training to demonstrate the best practices to keep the composting process clean and easy.
“Food waste reduction and composting go hand in hand, and we make a conscious effort to educate on both. As the Sales & Marketing Manager at CCC and a Jersey City resident, I’m thrilled to be able to share information throughout Hudson County.” Rodriguez makes her rounds in the area by speaking at neighborhood association meetings and attending community events and farmers’ markets—sharing her tips for reducing food waste, the benefits of composting and how to get started.
In addition to the obvious benefits that composting and food waste reduction lends to the public, consumers might be inspired to rethink their intentions when it comes to cooking at home or dining out. If you’re looking to improve your personal environmental footprint, it never hurts to support businesses that are doing the same.