5 Expert Tips for Reducing and Donating Food Waste

Here’s how to dispose of (and more effectively disperse) food waste

As event industry professionals, some of us have unwittingly mastered how to shrug and look the other way when we see full trays of food go into the garbage can at the end of a summit or luncheon, but the problem is piling up. Forty percent of food is thrown away—a whopper, and according to a Guardian report last year, the U.S. throws about half of its produce into the trash, and wasted food now takes the biggest slice of the pie in our landfills, says the EPA. While some degree of waste is inevitable when feeding hundreds or even thousands of guests en masse, there are things we as event planners can do to minimize it.

Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy—it’s an inverted pyramid (resembling its cousin, the nutrition one) which shows how to curb waste at every step of the process—as a guide, here are five ways to reduce and donate leftover food.  

Start by planning ahead. 

Instead of it being an afterthought, integrate the intended donation into your pre-planning process. Be sure to reference the aforementioned Food Recovery Hierarchy when you speak to your event partners, focusing on source reduction first. 

Choose what charitable organizations you’ll donate to. 

Work with your venue to coordinate donating food to shelters, food banks and soup kitchens in the area. You’ll need to know what they accept—every organization has different guidelines as to what type of food it can take—and how to go about it. Also, get cozy with The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects people like you from liability when giving away not-the-freshest but “apparently wholesome” food in good faith. 

Considering leaving leftovers for livestock. 

For those leftovers that can’t be donated to food banks, look into animal organizations that accept waste for animal feed. Food scraps are collected, treated and processed, and then fed to pigs, cows and even zoo animals

Donate to a composting facility.

Composting—Mother Nature’s process of recycling organic materials into a rich soil—is becoming increasingly popular in the meeting space, so ask your venue about their composting policy (some hotels will do their own composting; others may work with facilities in the area). This is a particularly good option when you’re hosting a large event with a carnival or festival theme where there may be copious amounts of finger foods and paper goods. Lucky for you (and the Earth!) composting works not only on those funnel cake scraps, but also on paper take-out containers, paper plates and napkins. 

Let the crowd in on your mission.

On the big day (and even before, especially if food orders are being taken), let your attendees know you’re trying to minimize food waste, and to whom you’re donating leftovers. Spill out any number of alarming facts about the what’s going on in this hungry world. Your guests will appreciate your trying to do right in the world, and they may just feel obliged to follow suit.