Philadelphia businesses take food waste challenge

Woman recycling organic kitchen waste by composting in green container during preparation of meal

Six Philadelphia businesses have committed to participate in the Office of Sustainability’s (OOS) new pilot program, the Philadelphia Food Waste Business Challenge, which will directly tackle restaurant food waste in the city.

Over the course of the challenge, the businesses will work with OOS and the Center for EcoTechnology (CET) to implement specific strategies that prevent food from going to waste. The city said the program marks a significant step forward towards its goal of achieving Zero Waste by 2035.

The participating businesses include: Bar Hygge, Birchtree Catering LLC, Earth – Bread + Brewery, Musi BYOB, The Random Tea Room and Weckerly’s Ice Cream.

The businesses have committed to working with CET to assess their wasted food and to implement an action plan to curb waste using prevention, donation and recycling strategies.

“Sustainability is no longer optional and we look forward to deepening our commitment to tackling food waste in our community,” said Allegra Derengowski, owner of Birchtree Catering.

OOS said research shows that reducing waste can demonstrate significant cost savings for businesses. A restaurant can save an average of $7 per pound of food waste prevented with some saving up to $14 per pound. There are many strategies that businesses can use to reduce their food waste, including preventing it before it’s created, donating excess food and composting food scraps. Businesses can spread benefits of food waste reduction throughout their communities by donating meals to Philadelphians in need or by supporting the region’s composting infrastructure.

“We joined the Food Waste Business Challenge to help bring attention to the importance of waste reduction,” said Peggy Zwerver, owner of Earth – Bread + Brewery. “It’s one of the major focuses of our business.”

In a 2019 study, the city collaborated with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to calculate Philadelphia’s baseline level of food waste and assess the potential for increased rescue of surplus food. The city estimated that 214,000 tons of food waste are generated in Philadelphia each year and that 27 percent of the food waste is generated by restaurants and caterers. Putting this data to use, OOS, which is currently participating in the NRDC’s Food Matters Regional Initiative, identified business engagement as a key factor in eliminating food waste locally.

“We are always striving to reduce our waste and environmental impact, but as a small operation with multiple locations, sometimes it is challenging to keep this goal as a top priority,” said Andy Satinsky, co-owner of Weckerly’s Ice Cream. “Participating in the challenge will help us create concrete goals and make us accountable to someone other than ourselves.”

The Philadelphia Food Waste Business Challenge is modeled after pilots previously launched in Denver, Colorado. and Nashville, Tennessee, both in partnership with NRDC. Through engaging with the challenge, participating businesses will keep track of their wasted food and implement tailored programs to prevent, donate and recycle wasted food. Other businesses and institutions are encouraged to follow along using the project website, where tools, resources and project insights will be posted regularly starting in November.

The challenge will conclude in the spring of 2022 and will be documented by OOS and CET. Waste data, barriers to participation and insights from each business will be compiled in a final report, which will continue to inform how the City engages with businesses to eliminate waste in Philadelphia for years to come.

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