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This challenge was a unique opportunity for local food businesses to receive FREE food waste reduction guidance. They collaborated 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 was a new pilot program that aimed to engage a minimum of 10 Philadelphia businesses in pursuing new wasted food prevention and recycling programs. The participating businesses worked 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-consumer 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 actively promoted the campaign and its participants, which elevated city-wide awareness of the food waste challenge, attracted more participation, and amplified the impacts of any individual instance of technical assistance. The selected businesses collaborated 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 wanted 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, and were able to connect their expertise with businesses that may have otherwise never accessed this type of 1-1 technical assistance.

Applications were reviewed and selected for a broad range of participants, taking into account factors such as business type, ownership models, and diversity. Selected applicants received no-cost wasted food expertise from the Center for EcoTechnology (CET), including 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 worked with each participating business to choose and implement three food waste source reduction and diversion strategies that had 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 worked with business contacts to support selected strategies and develop tracking and reporting procedures for the Food Waste Business Challenge.

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

Assistance from this challenge was offered to businesses free of charge, thanks to support from OOS and the USDA. Participating businesses received suggestions that may incur additional costs, such as adding organics collection services. CET staff are 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 launched this program with support from CET, who brings decades of experience in wasted food solutions. This project was 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 was also made possible by funding from USDA.

Meet Our Participants!

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

Participant Testimonials

“What surprised us most is the other businesses that exist in Philly that have helped us work towards zero waste, primarily Bottle Underground. With a little extra effort, we were able to divert all glass from our recycling bin, which we learned doesn’t get recycled at all. As a BYO, this is a LOT of glass. It really goes to show that you cannot do this whole zero-waste/sustainability thing alone. There’s such a supportive and inspired network to lean on and get motivated by. We’re excited to continue these efforts through the implementation of our composting program! We just applied for the Zero Waste Microgrant. But, aside from that, implementing an inclusive composting program (inclusive meaning meat/bones/dairy/etc.) is our next priority. We are hoping to engage our neighbors and those who dine at Musi/Frizwit in conversations around composting, zero waste, and what it means to be a sustainable business. One day we want to be a composting drop-off site!”

-MUSI

“We learned a lot through the weeks. Our biggest change to come from it was what we compost! We learned that we can compost so much more than we originally thought. Initially, we were unsure about food waste that contained dairy, but once we learned that we could compost our ice cream sandwich trimmings (which are a mixture of cookie and ice cream) that really was a game-changer. We cut on average anywhere between 60-100 trays of ice cream sandwiches a week, so that was a lot of trimmings that we were originally just throwing in the trash. We really appreciated being a part of this experience and everything we learned along the way. We will definitely be using all of our newfound knowledge to move forward in our business with a more conscious mind.”

-Weckerly's

“We used the challenge to organize and research how all of our waste is handled, including our compostable disposable wares. The Center for Ecotechnology helped us to discover that our region doesn’t have the infrastructure to dispose of compostable bioplastics, or CPLA/PLA plastics, which are items like forks and cups that look like plastic that are becoming more and more popular. So while we were purchasing and serving on “compostable” products, and sending them to a commercial composter, the reality is that they’re still heading to the landfill. We’re now much more knowledgeable about the lifecycle of CPLA/PLA plastics and are working on plans to change our purchasing choices, opting for reusable items whenever possible.”

-Birchtree Catering

“We were happy to participate in the Waste Challenge. We appreciate all the support we received from The Center for EcoTechnology and the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability. We were really pleased with the support we received from store manager Dean Stefano and his staff in the Chestnut Hill store but we are most grateful to all the amazing Weavers Way cooperators who showed up to help us do our sort.”

-Weaver's Way

“We are working on Musi Provisions, a line of specialty pantry items that let us further our vision of zero waste. Utilizing ingredients that would otherwise be wasted (like citrus rinds & herb stems) are given delicious second lives as marmalades, flavoring salts, and oils. Making these products available for people to buy is our way of sharing our mission with those around us. We want to inspire others to think critically about their food, where it comes from, and where it goes after it’s tossed out too soon.”

-Relish

“Participating in the food waste challenge was an eye-opening experience. We have always worked very hard to make Bar Hygge as sustainable as possible – from upcycled materials throughout the restaurant, to compostable takeout boxes and using straws made out of hay, we try to do it all! Through this challenge, we were able to focus on practices that we already have in place and improve on them. Something as simple as composting all of the paper towels from the bathrooms instead of just throwing them in the trash was an easy improvement, but will make a difference in the long run! Reducing and diverting waste is something that can get lost in your day to day in a busy restaurant, but this challenge gave us the chance to really take a look at all that we do and make it even better!”

-Bar Hygge

“The feedback about how best to record our waste streams and tips on improving our methods was very constructive. It helped me and my staff to understand how the City of Philadelphia’s waste log works. It also helped me to realize how important it is to quantify our waste, until we know what we are actually dealing with, being sustainable is just a fantasy, with data we make it a reality.”

-The Random Tea Room & Curiosity Shop

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 plasticfilmrecycling.org. 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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