Should Restaurants Charge People for Waste?

I take pride in my ability to clean a plate.  Sometimes, however, a restaurant creates a leaning tower of vittles that is overwhelming.  I find myself uncomfortably full finishing up some meals out on the town.  If I don’t finish the food on my plate, should I be charged a fee?

A banana split at Tony’s I-75 Restaurant in Birch Run, Michigan, which is known for its large portions.
-Molly Riley, Reuters

I came across this piece today about a couple restaurants in Manhattan and London that charge up to 32 dollars for a “wastage” fee if people take more from the buffet that they can chew and swallow.  The idea seems somewhat absurd, but it does bring up questions about our collective food consumption and staggering food waste.  According to the United Nations, the world wastes 1.3 billion pounds of food a year, which is up to 33 percent of all food produced annually.  If you add to this number the amount of grain and other potential edibles grown for meat animal feed, then clearly we don’t–or shouldn’t–have a food shortage anywhere.

Instead of having restaurants charge for uneaten food, what if restaurants were required to compost?

I’ve had more than one server do a double take when I ask for a plastic bag or container to scrape food off multiple plates to bring home.  “It’s for my chickens,” I say.  Chickens are amazing waste-reducers.  Plus, you get the bonus of old soggy break, sour milk, and vegetable stems being converted into delicious protein in the form of fresh eggs.  The three backyard hens not only eat plenty of our kitchen waste, but a mixture of their manure and straw gets mixed into my compost bin out by the alley.  Next time you are at a busy restaurant, look around and try to imagine where all the leftovers go.  Probably not to some hens cooped up behind the kitchen somewhere.

Organizations like Louisville’s Breaking New Grounds are among many newer organizations committed to turning waste into wealth.  It’s tough to argue that individuals, organizations, towns, and even cities should have coordinated efforts to reduce waste.  It’s one of those things that just makes senseMy colleague Joe Franzen at Fern Creek Traditional High School has initiated the first school-wide, outsourced composting operation in the district, which will hopefully serve as a model for other local institutions to follow suit.

On another food waste related note, what if all takeout food required patrons to bring their own containers?

I enjoy ordering takeout, but I do feel self-conscious toting a plastic bag full of disposable styrofoam platters, containers, and plastic utensils.  I’d have no problem bringing my own containers to local restaurants.  Maybe I’d take better care of my tupperware lids.  Would restaurants lose a lot of business by voluntarily initiating such a move?  Probably so.  After all, modern business and technology seem to be colluding on a myopic path towards more convenience in all facets of life.  Convenience is nice, but it isn’t always prudent for our collective long term health.

9 thoughts on “Should Restaurants Charge People for Waste?

  1. My wife and I generally try to remember taking tupperware to pack up our leftovers when we are eating out. Most servers don’t mind at all (probably not good for buffets though), and some even think it’s a great idea as it saves them from having to do extra work. Collapsible tupperware are pretty convenient to have around, check em out!

    • Issac, sounds like you are one step ahead of me. I have an amazing ability to lose sunglasses and tupperware, but I did own some collapsible bowls about a year back. That’s a good sign that you haven’t been questioned during your responsible waste collection…I’ve never seen anybody with their own containers. You might have me converted!

  2. I like your ideas here! And I could see a takeout restaurant that let’s people bring their own dshes, etc using that as a marketing strategy, now that people are becoming more aware of the waste. Thanks for making me think!

    • I’m not a fan of more laws, either. I wonder what will come first–greater consciousness, leading to people changing their behavior in the realms of food and material consumption, or laws that regulate waste more closely? The way we live (collectively), this would be a DRASTIC shift.

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