So you want to determine exactly how much food waste you are generating. Good idea – but how? Completing a food waste assessment can seem like a daunting task. The EPA just released “A Guide to Conducting and Assessing a Food Waste Assessment” to help you figure it out. After reviewing the EPA report, we wanted to share our favorite tips as wells.
Here are our 9 Tips for Conducting a Food Waste Assessment:
- Do your sorting AS the waste is generated – Rather than dumpster diving (i.e., sorting after the fact, yuck!), set up bins to source separate each type of waste you want to measure. Staff your stations and make sure everything gets in the correct container in the first place! No need for a separate sorting phase! Much easier!
- Grab some grabbers (and disposable gloves) – Grabbers are so darn, uh,..handy! Much nicer than reaching down with your bare hand into that trash can filled with muck.
- Keep measuring until the trend is clear – How long to collect data? It depends on how much variation you have. Start by collecting data for one day. Then collect data for a second day, then a third. Already, you will be begin to see how much variability there is from day to day. If it becomes clear that you are measuring essentially the same amount of waste everyday, your confidence builds that your numbers are accurate. Otherwise, it may take more days of data collection to capture the higher amounts of variability.
- Watch out for seasonal variations – The food waste you generate in July can be totally different than the food waste you generate in September. Be sure to measure each of these separately or, at least, note that you need to watch out for these seasonal variations.
- Account for peak flow – What ever resource recovery strategy you choose, you will need to be able to manage those occasional events and parties and seasonal peaks and valleys. Make sure your food waste assessment takes this into account these unusual flows.
- Separate out food service paper from your food waste – It is nice to separate these two. Napkins and paper towels are predominantly carbon-based, take a lot of space and don’t weigh very much. Food waste is the opposite, nitrogen-rich, heavy and dense. Ideally, it is best to track these two separately, even if they will both be composted in the end.
- Track weight AND volume – When you are doing your food waste assessment, measure the weight and the volume of each sample. Composting systems are limited primarily by volume not weight. You can only fit so much stuff in a given vessel. Also, tracking both volume and weight allow you to assess the all important BULK DENSITY. Bulk Density tells you how much air space is in a given volume of material. This is super critical for assessing its compostability.
- Assess moisture content – Take note of the moisture content in your food waste. Is your food waste dominated by wet materials such as salads, soups and fruits. Or is it dominated by dry items such as breads and pastas. This is important information if you plan to compost this waste in-house.
- Document, document, document – Keep meticulous records of all your measurements. This allows you to know what you measured, when and how. This documentation can be super helpful later on, especially if there are any questions about the results, it is important to be able to back up your work and explain your conclusions.