According to ReFED, food service businesses generated 12.8 million tons of surplus food in 2021. Of that waste, the largest amount came from plate waste (69.4%), followed by catering overproduction (11%), and general overproduction (eight percent).
Practical and scalable answers exist to target each of these areas, including The PLEDGE™ on Food Waste. The PLEDGE is a global certification program, with a focus on food waste prevention, motivating food service businesses to monitor and reduce waste and establish new standards of excellence that are linked with sustainability. This program includes 95 criteria around planning, implementation, and capacity building so that food waste prevention strategies can be adopted for the long term.
These 95 criteria include a wide range of topics like engaging staff, suppliers, and customers in food waste reduction efforts; monitoring and reducing plate waste; revising purchasing practices to prevent spoilage; donating excess food to feed people and animals; and implementing composting.
Alongside Alchemi (Silver Level) and Johnny’s Speakeasy (Silver Level) restaurants managed by Craig Kuhlmann, three dining halls managed by Chartwells at Oakland University (Gold Level), Sylvan Table (Silver Level), and Folk (Bronze Level) also received certifications. These seven Metro Detroit food businesses are the first in the U.S. to be certified by the The PLEDGE.
To receive certification, each business had to submit proof of their food waste reduction tactics before going through an audit by a third-party reviewer. Their official PLEDGE certification lasts for one year, after which they’ll need to go through the audit process again.
The international program came to Michigan via a Detroit-based nonprofit working to keep food out of landfills — Make Food Not Waste. With financial support from U.S. EPA Region 5, the nonprofit piloted the program starting in Southeast Michigan.
“We brought The PLEDGE to Detroit because the program takes a preventative approach to food waste,” said Danielle Todd, Executive Director of Make Food Not Waste. “If you want to see the greatest impact on your bottom line and the environment, you have to focus on preventing food waste from happening in the first place.” Todd is one of just three accredited consultants for The PLEDGE based in the U.S.
Through this pilot program, Make Food Not Waste discovered that The PLEDGE is best suited for larger restaurants and hospitality sites, but smaller restaurants are just as interested in minimizing their waste. That led to the creation of a smaller scale program called The PRIMER that zeroes in on the most impactful waste reduction activities for cafes, small restaurants, and bakeries.
Messaging was also a big area of insight. Surprisingly, chefs and owners responded most to messages that “this is the right thing to do.” Messages around financial benefits, the certificate/award, and competition between chefs were less compelling.
As a result of taking The PLEDGE each business has realized financial and environmental benefits. For example:
- All seven sites are no longer sending any food to landfills.
- All sites reported a dramatic increase in employee engagement, demonstrating that staff members are highly receptive to incorporating new sustainability practices.
- Across all sites, there was a 60-ton reduction in GHG emissions per year.
- Sylvan Table saw a four percent drop in food costs.
- Alchemi/Johnny’s Speakeasy repurposed previously unused trimmings into a new appetizer that generated $6k in the first quarter.
- The three Oakland University sites have donated 675 pounds of food so far.
Beyond the numbers, The PLEDGE has helped shift attitudes about what’s possible. “By learning about The PLEDGE and participating, it’s helped us to set some stretch goals for all aspects of the university,” says Brian Bierley, Director of Media Relations at Oakland University. “It’s brought great pride to the whole staff and students.”
“This really should be the standard and will be the standard for any good kitchen,” says Craig Kuhlmann, General Manager of Alchemi and Johnny’s Speakeasy.
- To learn more about Make Food Not Waste’s PLEDGE program in Michigan, visit http://makefoodnotwaste.org/the-pledge or contact email@example.com.
- Food businesses outside of Michigan interested in taking The PLEDGE can learn more and sign up for the program here.
- Individuals can sign up to become accredited consultants for The PLEDGE to help expand the program to more locations.
About Make Food Not Waste
Make Food Not Waste is a Detroit-based nonprofit founded in 2017 to keep food out of landfills and slow climate change by processing edible, nutritious food to keep it from going to waste and reducing food waste in the foodservice and household sectors. The organization works with local restaurant and hospitality groups on food waste reduction, leads household education campaigns, and advises local and state governments on FLWR best practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of ReFED.