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Reducing Food Waste: How and Why

Reducing the amount of food wasted at your business has significant economic, social and environmental benefits.  

Food Recovery HierarchyFood waste follows the same “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” hierarchy as paper, plastic and other recyclables. But, since food is more palatable than paper, there are a few more levels to the food waste hierarchy.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done extensive research to put together a clear Food Recovery Hierarchy to help businesses decide what to do with food waste [1].  

Your business can also work with us to recover food waste before it is sent to a landfill. 

What’s the best thing to do, and why?

BestSource Reduction

Feed Hungry People and Animals



1. Source Reduction

What you can do: Reduce the volume of surplus food generated.

Why: Reducing and preventing food waste can help your business [2]:


  • Reduce over-purchasing and labor costs.
  • Cut down on disposal costs.
  • Reduce resource use associated with food production.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

How can your business prevent food waste?

Restaurants, campus institutions, caterers and hotels

Start by monitoring and recording pre-consumer food waste. The EPA has a handful of food waste assessment tools your business can use. 

If you are a large vendor, the Lean Path food waste prevention system can help your staff track and monitor food waste.  Lean Path’s Zap program is designed for small to mid-sized operations who want to use the Lean Path software to monitor food waste.


Grocers can adjust purchases to reduce pre-consumer food waste from things that are never sold to customers. Grocers can monitor food waste in the deli/prepared food area like a restaurant.


Offer household food waste prevention strategies to your employees. When ordering food, don’t over order and buy from sustainable companies.  

2. Feed Hungry People and Animals

Man preparing food donation

What you can do: Donate extra and leftover food to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters. Use what isn’t edible to feed animals.

Why: Businesses can help address both hunger and waste by viewing surplus food as a resource, not a waste product [3].

  • Provide food to people in need.
  • Build employee morale.
  • Donation may potentially reduce your garbage costs.

How can your business feed hungry people?

Fork It Over! Links businesses in the Portland metropolitan areas with food rescue agencies. They accept perishable, non-perishable and prepared foods that have not been served or sold.

Note: Grocers, restaurants, hotels, caterers and food service companies are more likely than offices to have the volume of food to donate to a food rescue agency.

Many local breweries connect with farmers to donate their spent grains for animal feed. Some food companies, like Crave Catering, are closing the loop and using their own vegetable waste to feed chickens who’s eggs are then used at their catered events.

Why feed animals? A lot of resources go into producing feed for livestock. Feeding livestock with unused food frees up resources to feed more people.

  • According to the National Corn Growers Association, about 80% of all corn grown in the US is consumed by livestock, poultry and fish production [4]. 

3. Compost

compost in hands

What you can do: Compost any food waste that can’t be donated (food prep scraps, plate scrapings, food that’s gone bad). Every little bit counts.

Why: Compost recovers food waste instead of sending it to the landfill.

  • Portland’s business composting program turns food into fuel.
  • Organic material from Portland businesses is transported to an anaerobic digestion facility near Eugene where it is turned into biogas and fertilizer. The EPA considers anaerobic digestion industrial use, which they rank higher than compost in the hierarchy. 

Oil Recycling:

  • Convert used cooking oil into biofuels.
  • Call Metro at 503-234-3000 to find a cooking oil recycler that’s right for you.

Contact us for help setting up your business with food only composting and find how-to information on our website:

4. Landfill 

What you can do: Only throw food in the trash if efforts to reduce, donate or compost it aren’t possible.



When food is disposed in a landfill, it rots and becomes a significant source of methane - a potent greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide [1,2].

Oregon’s landfills capture 70% of the methane emitted, however, landfills are a major source of human-related methane in the United States and account for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions [1,2,5,6].

Landfilling food waste also deprives people of the benefits of using that food.

Want help setting up your business with food waste recovery? Contact a sustainability advisor.

Food Waste Prevention Resources:


  1. US EPA –The Food Recovery Hierarchy
  2. US EPA – Food Waste Reduction and Prevention
  3. Fork It Over! – Helping Businesses Reduce Hunger and Waste
  4. US EPA - Major Crops Grown in the United States
  5. Portland Climate Action Plan – Consumption and Solid Waste
  6. Climate Action Now! Your Food