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This is a unique opportunity for local food businesses to receive FREE food waste reduction guidance. They will also collaborate with the City of Philadelphia to work towards achieving zero food waste, and help shape sustainability programs and policy down the line.

Applications for the next cohort are currently closed

The Office of Sustainability’s (OOS) Food Waste Business Challenge is a new pilot program that will engage a minimum of 10 Philadelphia businesses in pursuing new wasted food prevention and recycling programs. The participating businesses will work directly with the Center for EcoTechnology (CET) to identify how and when food waste is created, identify goals to target this waste, and implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce, repurpose, and divert wasted food. CET focuses on a holistic approach and targets both pre- and post-consumer food waste.

By implementing strategies across the U.S. EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, businesses can save money on food purchasing and disposal costs, thus yielding essential economic benefits. Example strategies include implementing source separation and composting, commencing food donation, offering flexible portion sizes, utilizing food parts that would otherwise go unused, making free bread and chips optional. OOS will actively promote the campaign and participants in it, which will help elevate city-wide awareness of the food waste challenge, attract more participation, and amplify the impacts of any individual instance of technical assistance. The selected businesses will collaborate directly with OOS and CET for a minimum of 6 months.

This is a unique opportunity for local food businesses and the City to collaborate towards achieving Zero Food Waste, and for businesses to offer critical feedback to the City that will shape sustainability programs and policy down the line. OOS wants to learn directly from businesses about their barriers to implementing Zero Food Waste strategies, as well as other challenges they may face to thrive as a sustainable food business in Philadelphia. CET is a longstanding partner of the City’s; thanks to a grant from the USDA, we’re able to connect their expertise with businesses that may have otherwise never accessed this type of 1-1 technical assistance.

The first step in the process is to apply for the Food Waste Business Challenge. Applications will be reviewed to select for a broad range of participants, taking into account factors such as business type, ownership models, and diversity. Selected applicants will receive no-cost wasted food expertise from the Center for EcoTechnology (CET), which includes a virtual or in-person site-visit to understand a business’s needs, priorities, and opportunities by observing existing practices, assessing waste streams, and analyzing waste bills and other relevant data.

Following this visit, CET staff will work with each participating business to choose and implement three food waste source reduction and diversion strategies that have the greatest promise to yield economic, environmental, and/or social benefits for the business and the Philadelphia community at large. Over the course of the Challenge, CET staff will work with business contacts to support selected strategies, and develop tracking and reporting procedures for the Food Waste Business Challenge.

At least 10 businesses will be enrolled in the challenge. Applicants who are not selected for the challenge are encouraged to sign-up to receive free resources and ongoing updates to support waste reduction at their business.

The Food Service Business Challenge will take place over the course of six months between October and April 2022. Active time involved in the project will include an initial site visit and a 60-day challenge period, with time available to plan for the challenge between the initial visit and the 60-day period.

The challenge will take place starting in October, over the course of approximately 6 months of activity. During this time, participants will receive a free site-visit, have time to review recommendations and plan next steps, and then spend two months actively participating in the challenge. Participants will need to commit to meeting with CET staff for an initial visit, and periodic follow-up check-ins. Businesses will also be asked to commit to three new actions that support waste reduction during this time frame, and communicate about the results.

The application includes basic questions, such as business name, contact information, number of employees, and average meals served per week. To better understand your interests and current activities, several questions seek to understand why you are applying, as well as current donation or composting practices, if any. With an aim to include a diverse applicant pool, there are additional questions about ownership and community leadership.

Among many benefits, participating businesses will receive public recognition from the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability for their role in the challenge. Additionally, participants will receive no-cost direct wasted food expertise to support efforts to reduce waste, costs, and environmental impacts.

Assistance from this challenge is offered to businesses free of charge, thanks to support from OOS and the USDA. Participating businesses will receive suggestions that may incur additional costs, such as adding organics collection services. CET staff will be available to support participating entities in implementing the most cost-effective programs, based on their needs.

Through its Food Matters Regional Initiative, the NRDC has developed the framework for similar challenges that have been hosted elsewhere, including Nashville, TN, which offered a Food Saver Challenge, and Denver, Colorado’s Food Matters Restaurant Challenge.

The City of Philadelphia’s Food Service Business Challenge has been made possible with collaboration from numerous partners. The OOS has launched this program with support from CET, who brings decades of experience in wasted food solutions. This project is also supported by the NRDC’s Food Matters Regional Initiative, which has developed the framework for similar challenges that have been hosted elsewhere. This project is made possible by funding from USDA.

We split the Challenge participants into 2 groups for a few reasons! First, launching two separate application periods allows time to get in touch with as many Philly food businesses as possible over a longer period of time, and gives businesses more time to consider the opportunity and respond to the application. Second, we are able to begin working with the first cohort (half of the total Challenge participants) sooner rather than later, while still giving other businesses the chance to learn about the Challenge and apply. Finally, based on the first cohort of businesses, we can determine what types of businesses are missing from the picture – we want to include a wide variety of food businesses so that we can get the best representation possible of how food becomes waste in Philadelphia!

Meet Our Participants!

Click any photo below to see the full gallery from our visits:

Tools & Resources:

    • The Food Waste Logbook: the 2022 Food Waste Challengers are using this spreadsheet to keep track of their waste – including food waste, trash, recycling, and more! If you’d like to customize this logbook to suit your business’ needs but aren’t sure how to do this, send us an email (contact information is provided below).
    • The Food Waste Logbook Instruction Sheet: the Challengers will be following these guidelines while tracking their waste. Use this instruction sheet to learn how to use the Food Waste Logbook, and to learn more tips about tracking your waste generation.
    • Food Waste Challenge Kickoff Call Slide Deck: this presentation contains more information about what participants will be working on as part of the Food Waste Business Challenge, alongside lots of interesting information about Philadelphia’s waste landscape & waste tools for businesses.
    • Food Waste Management for Commercial Properties: this 2-page flyer quickly delivers information about food waste rules & regulations for businesses in Philadelphia, and what you can do to more sustainably manage food waste.
    • Zero Waste Guide for Foodservice Establishments: if you’re looking for ways to eliminate waste at your food business – from food waste to packaging waste – check this guide out! The guide goes over the basics of food safety and regulations related to waste generation and provides lots of tools and resources to help you build a low-waste foodservice program.
    • PolyGreen America and United States Recycling: These plastic recyclers accept most clean rigid plastic containers and clean film plastics. Other recyclers of plastic film can be found on Typically for small amounts of film plastic, this material can be aggregated and brought to a local grocery store where it is collected and sent to Trex and recycled into composite decking.

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