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National Restaurant Association - Recycling & Waste Reduction

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Industry Impact

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Recycling & Waste Reduction

Industry innovations are helping operators reduce food and packaging waste. The result is programs that feed the hungry, help make our communities cleaner and healthier, and reduce the quantity of materials headed to landfills.

Responsible Practices, Made Easy

The NRA is leading the way to voluntary, industry-driven solutions that increase affordable and sustainable packaging options and expand communities’ recycling infrastructures. At the same time, our collaborations with industry partners, including summits, studies and programs, are helping restaurateurs incorporate recycling and waste reduction into everyday business operations.


Recycling is the “new normal.” Recycling has become business as usual for 65% of restaurant operators. Approximately 74% of operators said they use a back-of-house recycling program, while 43% said they use a program in the front of the house. Customers approve. About 60% said they prefer to patronize restaurants that recycle, with 51% saying they are willing to pay an average of 10% more at restaurants that do recycle. A 2011 study expected 82% of all U.S. restaurants to be recycling in some fashion by the end of 2012.


A recent survey of industry recycling practices, conducted by the National Restaurant Association with support from Georgia-Pacific Professional provided insights into restaurants’ current recycling practices, as well as related consumer demands and perceptions. It also provided links to tips for launching recycling programs. Among the survey’s findings, reported in Recycling for All the Right Returns, are that most restaurant operators embrace recycling, and that 85% of consumers are willing to sort quickservice recyclables into bins.


Reducing food waste is the goal of The Food Waste Reduction Alliance, a partnership between the Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute. The Alliance is working towards more efficient food donations, better use of product, and more widespread composting to reduce food waste sent to landfills. Already, about 13% of restaurants participate in composting programs. Another alliance, between the Association and the U.S. Composting Council, promotes composting through awareness and education.


Smart packaging can reduce both packaging waste and food waste. The inaugural Executive Foodservice Packaging Summit, convened by the Association along with the Foodservice Packaging Institute, represented a significant advance in industrywide packaging solutions. The Summit, held in October 2012, engaged participants along the entire value chain and addressed a range of packaging, packaging recovery and industry education issues.

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