Developing a plan to cut food waste is one thing. Actually seeing results is another.

“Measurement really is the path to prevention,” says Andrew Shakman co-founder and CEO of LeanPath, a Portland, Ore.-based food waste management consultancy. “Tracking and automation is no longer just a nice thing to have; it’s the best way to really change culture.”

Tracking waste marks just the first step to seeing results; it’s the measuring and analyzing steps that have the most significant impact. An operator can measure, measure, measure, but without understanding where the food waste occurs or why or how, real change becomes challenging. Measuring, for example, helps shed light on what types of food an operation overproduces and why.

“When we measure, we also have the ability to define a baseline in order to measure longer-term change,” Shakman says. Measuring, he notes, essentially makes the invisible visible.

There’s also something called the “Hawthorne Effect,” Shakman points out. Behavioral research conducted in the 1920s at Hawthorne Works, an electronics factory in Cicero, Ill. (now a mall), found that brighter lighting and better working conditions were actually less effective on productivity than the act of measuring itself; people performed better when they knew they were being watched and measured. In the case of waste management, Shakman has found that people start throwing away less when they start to track and visualize what’s going to the landfill.

How to Measure and Analyze Waste

Organizing, maintaining and analyzing data represent important pieces of the measuring puzzle. Sure, operators could simply rely on what their waste haulers say, Shakman notes, but they could miss out on other important pieces of information that would otherwise offer a clearer picture of an operation’s current waste management efforts and proximity to goals. Otherwise, he says, “we’re throwing money, not just food, into the garbage.”

Shakman also points out the difference between an audit and ongoing tracking. Audits are a one-time measurement; they might offer a snapshot of the food waste for that day or timeframe but they won’t show patterns like regular, daily tracking does.

There are two types of measurement: quantification (the amount of food wasted) and qualification (the types of foods wasted).

Tools that track and analyze food waste to quantify it span from the very low-tech spreadsheet to high-tech smart scales equipped with cameras. Some units in development even generate alerts in real time, such as sending a notification to a chef’s smartphone that more than $10 in food waste was just thrown into the trash.

Beyond tracking the actual waste, measuring where the food waste goes is important, Shakman says. This helps shed light on how much gets sent to recycling, composting, anaerobic digestion (AD) systems, or worse case, the landfill.

Use of KPIs

Operators can use all types of reporting language to measure and monitor a waste management program, from proprietary systems to the newly developed, internationally recognized Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (see sidebar) to KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, a measurable value commonly used by large-scale organizations in healthcare and other sectors to evaluate their success at reaching targets and goals.

A KPI demonstrates how effectively a company achieves key business objectives. High-level KPIs /may focus on the overall performance of the enterprise, while low-level KPIs may focus on processes in departments such as sales, marketing or a call center.

Shakman’s team primarily uses the Food Efficiency Ratio (FER) KPI to monitor client waste management goals. FER involves dividing the amount of the food waste by the amount spent on food in any given month. For example, if an operator generates 10,000 pounds of food waste and spends $100,000 on food, they would realize a 10 percent FER. The operator could then compare that figure to other internal divisions or outside organizations; some might have a 2 percent FER, while still others could have a higher one at 12 percent.

Measuring Waste Management Effectiveness at the University of Notre Dame

After putting smart scales in place throughout the prep kitchens, the University of Notre Dame has been able to quantify and qualify its waste management efforts.

The scale/software system generates weekly reports as well as an annual, more thorough report that will even compare weight in tons to elephants and other tangible objects.

“This type of reporting is great because it helps our students really visualize how much we throw away,” says Cheryl Bauer, associate director of sourcing and sustainability for campus dining.

The campus team has recently been looking to switch from using a disposer to capturing that slurry and sending it to a local AD facility for further processing into soil amendments.

Tracking food waste has led to major production and operational changes as well. “We saw that we were throwing away a lot of sauces, and not only did the data tell us the gross amount of this loss, but also the costs associated with it,” says Bauer. “That was eye-opening. Now, we make smaller batches at a time.”

Thanks to cameras on the scales, Bauer could see what type of trim waste was getting thrown out the most in order to make further operational changes. The school’s current system setup will identify the employee that did the most tracking for that week; prizes are awarded to those who track the most throughout the month or quarter.

Measuring and analyzing the amount of food and edible material otherwise sent to landfill has also helped Bauer’s team take a closer look at signage above and around waste receptacles, something they are currently working to improve. They’re also investigating a new smart scale that will allow them to broadcast real-time food loss data in the dining hall to try to change the culture even more.

In order to cut down on the landfill, post-consumer waste, the school has recently implemented a reusable to-go container program whereby students get credit for returning the containers to a collection device so there’s a constant rotation. “Every little bit helps when it comes to waste management,” Bauer says.


The FLW Standard

The global Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (FLW Standard) provides requirements and guidance for governments, companies, and other entities, including restaurants and foodservice operations. “What gets measured gets managed” is the motto of the Food Loss & Waste Protocol, which was launched in 2013 specifically to develop the internationally accepted, voluntary FLW Standard for quantifying food loss and waste.

IKEA has used the FLW Standard as part of its goal to cut food waste in half at all stores by the end of the 2020 fiscal year. The initiative, which involves the retail giant’s kitchen and bistro operations as well as the IKEA Swedish Food Market, began in December 2016 and involves smart scales that weigh and track both pre- and post-consumer food waste, according to a report published by the FLW Protocol. Staff also use the scales to categorize and identify the reason behind the waste as well as the cost. As of October 2017, IKEA had “saved” nearly 600,000 meals and reduced its food loss weight by 270,000 kilograms (roughly 595,000 pounds) across just 130 of its 403 stores.

FLW Protocol offers various roadmaps for reducing waste, including in a restaurant/foodservice setting, and outlines how restaurants/foodservice operations can use the FLW Standard to measure three types of food waste: used cooking oil, pre-consumer food scraps, and post-consumer meals.