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National Restaurant Association - NRA seeks to reduce food waste, sustainability director says

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NRA seeks to reduce food waste, sustainability director says

Laura Abshire, the National Restaurant Association’s director of sustainability policy and government affairs, recently addressed the issue of food waste and the restaurant industry. Abshire is the NRA’s liaison for the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, a joint effort with the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute, to reduce, reuse and recycle food waste.

Why did the NRA become involved in the FWRA?
We know the restaurant industry produces its share of food waste and wanted to be a part of the solution rather than a source of the problem. The National Restaurant Association is committed to working with other food-related organizations to address food waste and define ways to divert that waste from landfills into other, more productive uses. And those uses are many. They include producing compost that can be put back into the soil to help nourish and grow our food supply, and donating surplus food from restaurants to charities that help feed the hungry. Doing this is a win-win for us, and our industry.

What’s the largest benefit for restaurateurs when they reduce food waste?
First, by reducing food waste, restaurateurs can save on their operating costs. Add to that the ability to create additional revenue streams, such as compost. Also, companies that participate in food donation programs are eligible for tax credits. It’s a financially sound business decision. Now add the community aspect into the mix. By looking into reducing food waste, we not only can help protect the environment, but also offer assistance to the communities we serve. Our industry always seeks ways to help those in need, and this is just one more way we can achieve that goal.

What are some collaboration success stories you’ve witnessed?
A couple of things come to mind. First, the NRA has partnered with Food Donation Connection, an organization that helps restaurants donate excess food to charitable organizations and food banks. Also, the NRA, with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support its Food Waste Challenge, a great program that aims to change the way we think about and manage food and food waste in this country. The program is committed to disseminating information to all businesses in the food supply, from manufacturers to restaurateurs. That information includes best practices to help reduce, recover and recycle food waste and stimulate the development of more of those practices.

What do you hope the alliance will achieve in the next few years?
We hope to make a significant impact in educating our members about food waste, teach them how to reduce the amount they produce at their establishments, increase waste diversion from landfills, and show it’s possible to profit professionally and personally by participating in those actions.

What are the next steps for the NRA?
Right now, we’re looking to collect as much data as possible on food waste in our industry and how to get operators to help reduce that waste. We think that will happen through education. We are working on the release of the FWRA’s new toolkit as well as a report that details the state of food waste and where we think it is headed. We plan to continue to educate people about the problem and how they can help solve it. Really, it is all about teaching and offering best practices to restaurant operators. 

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