Regulations for Restaurant Food Waste: Disposal & Composting

Written by t.j. black
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Regulations for Restaurant Food Waste: Disposal & Composting
Reduce Food Waste (Over ripe bananas (ingredient for banana loaf) image by Sophia Winters from

The North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance reports that 6.7 per cent of the weight of solid waste which the U.S. municipal system collects comes from food discards. While federal and state laws determine when a restaurant must dispose of food, they also make provisions for the ways companies can dispose and compost the food waste. By working within the regulations, a business cannot only help reduce the total weight of food discards, but may recoup part of the expense of food disposal.

Good Samaritan Act

In 1996, congress approved the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which released restaurants and other food organisations like grocery stores from liability associated with the donation of food waste to organisations assisting individuals in need. The act was the result of the 1995 Market Potential Report finding 83 per cent of companies surveyed did not donate excess food due to liability concerns. The Good Samaritan Act protects donors in all 50 states from civil and criminal liability for product donated in good faith.

According to the text for the act, food waste must be apparently wholesome food. The acts defines this as "food that meets all quality and labelling standards imposed by Federal, State, and local laws and regulations even though the food may not be readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus, or other conditions." Depending on the organisation set to receive the food, you may be able to schedule a time for the organisation to pick up the food waste.


Just because food waste may not be suitable for human consumption, it doesn't mean a restaurant has to send it to a landfill. The federal government allows a restaurant to dispose of food waste by giving it or selling it to local farmers for use in composting or feeding swine. If you plan to use this route for disposal, take laws into consideration. Under federal law, a farmer would need to boil any food waste coming in contact with meat or containing meat for 30 minutes before allowing swine to consume the recycled food. Some states have adopted stricter laws. For example, Texas does not allow farmers to feed swine recycled food containing meat or coming in contact with it. For restaurants that have food waste containing meat, some farmers may still accept the donation for use in composting. To be safe, make sure you know what type of food you're donating.


Vermicomposting is a process of decomposing food waste by using worms to break down food. Regulations vary by county and state, so you'll want to ensure your municipalities allow vermicomposting before you begin using this composting method. Other types of composting may be an option, even if your state doesn't allow the use of worms. In unaerated static piles, composting takes place in an uncontained area with small piles of waste mixed with a bulking agent. This system doesn't accommodate grease of meat. Windrow composting expands the area with the restaurant food waste going into long piles or rows, which undergo manual or mechanical aeration. This system can handle small amounts of grease or meat. If your restaurant needs to decompose animal products, consider in-vessel composting, which is a system using enclosed containers and an aeration system to break down the waste.

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