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Creating a Successful Restaurant Food Scrap Recycling Program – Lessons Learned from the Eight City Regional Partnership Program in Orange County

Case Story

Communities: Regional partnership among eight cities in Orange County: Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Tustin, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, Rancho Santa Margarita

Combined Population: 426,275


A typical restaurant disposes more than 50 tons of organic waste annually, representing a significant portion of the waste stream that can be diverted from disposal with a food scrap recycling program. In April 2010, in response to a planned landfill disposal fee increase, eight cities in Orange County, along with the cities’ solid waste service provider, began a pilot program to collect and transport restaurant food scraps to a composting facility. The program was funded by a grant from the Orange County Waste and Recycling Department.

Program Highlights

  • Each participating city approached five restaurants that are high food waste generators to participate in the free pilot program.
  • Each participating city’s recycling coordinator and staff from the solid waste service provider makes regular onsite visits to train restaurant employees to properly separate and contain food waste for recycling.
  • The hauler provides the restaurants free indoor and outdoor bins for bi-weekly food scrap collection.
  • Over 600 tons of food waste were diverted from the landfill and recycled into compost during the first six months of the pilot program.
  • Some participating restaurants reduced the amount of food waste going to disposal, and thus their monthly solid waste collection bill, by 50 percent.
  • The pilot program was funded by a $400,000 grant from the Orange County Waste and Recycling Department.

Lessons Learned

  • Financial incentives are important for restaurants to take the food scrap recycling program seriously. Restaurants that pay their own waste disposal bills are typically more interested in food scrap recycling to reduce solid waste collection costs.
  • It’s important to thoroughly train restaurant management and employees to collect food waste and use the bins provided. Both management and employees benefit from periodic, ongoing coaching.
  • The greater the support by restaurant management for the recycling effort, the more successful the effort by the employees, thus resulting in more food scraps recycled and cost savings.
  • Working together as a regional effort is important to help solve common problems with a new recycling program.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

In 2009, faced with a 32 percent increase in landfill disposal fees, the City of Laguna Hills met with its exclusive solid waste and recycling service provider to discuss new recycling options. In Laguna Hills, restaurant food waste represents a large segment of waste disposed at landfills. A restaurant typically disposes over 50 tons of organic waste per year, representing 40-45 percent of its annual waste. Thus, Laguna Hills decided to explore a restaurant food waste recycling program.

After initial success with a trial group of restaurants, Laguna Hills and neighboring cities of Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Tustin, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, and Rancho Santa Margarita decided to take advantage of a grant program that would enable them to jointly undertake a food waste recycling program. All eight cities use the same exclusive hauler and all have a voluntary commercial recycling program. These cities and their solid waste service provider, CR&R, together applied for and received a $400,000 grant from the Orange County Waste and Recycling Department to coordinate a joint regional food scrap recycling program. It mainly involved restaurants, but also a few other food-related businesses. San Clemente served lead city for the project.

The participating cities primarily sought restaurants to participate in the pilot program that were the largest food waste generators. They focused on restaurants responsible for paying their own solid waste collection bills that would have a greater, direct financial incentive to save on waste collection costs. In addition to restaurants, the pilot program also included some hotels, markets and a farmers market held weekly at the Laguna Hills Mall.

The pilot program, which is voluntary and free to the participating restaurants and other food-related businesses, involves considerable mentoring by the recycling staff. For example, the food-related businesses receive free indoor and outdoor bins for food scrap collection. Posters and flyers help restaurants educate and remind their staff on proper collection of food waste. In addition, regular visits to the restaurants and food businesses by city and hauler staff helped to stimulate ongoing participation.

In-house recycling coordinators in each participating city initiated and monitor participation. In fact, having a lead staff person in each city is a key element to the program’s success. In addition, CR&R allocates staff time on a regular basis to monitor the quality (contamination level) of recycled food waste and keep statistics on recycling volumes. The eight cities meet monthly with a representative from the hauler to review the status of the program and share data on the amount of recycled food waste collected.

Since the joint program began in April 2010, participating restaurants in San Clemente have reduced landfilling over 90 tons of food waste. Participating restaurants in Laguna Hills have reduced landfilling over 120 tons of food waste. Some participating restaurants reduced the amount of food waste going to disposal, and thus their monthly solid waste collection bill, by 50 percent.

The eight cities plan to continue the food scrap recycling program after the grant ends at the end of 2011. At that time, however, they may charge a fee for the recycling service. Analysis is currently underway on a possible fee structure, as well as consideration of whether to expand the food waste recycling program to residential customers.



Compiled April 2011

This story was prepared in partnership with the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).

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