It will also require the development or expansion of the recycling infrastructure – which, in many of the markets where we operate, does not exist to provide an available or cost-effective option for recycling some or all of the materials in our waste stream.
Tackling Food Waste
Food waste is the single largest component of our waste stream – which means reducing it must be a key part of any strategy to get to zero waste. Darden is working to tackle food waste on a variety of fronts. One way is to take steps to reduce the amount of food waste we generate, which we aim to do by using advance forecasting systems to effectively align distribution of food to our restaurants with the anticipated demand.
Another way is to ensure that whenever we do have high-quality, surplus food, we donate it to hunger relief organizations to benefit people in need – rather than simply dispose of it. Last year alone, all Darden restaurants contributed nearly 10 million pounds of food through their Harvest program. Since its inception in 2003, the Harvest program has donated more than 77 million pounds of food with a fair market value of nearly $700 million to community food banks across the country. That’s the equivalent of 100 million meals over that time.
We are also working to develop an operational model for integrating organics recycling (or composting) into our restaurant operations over time. Audits of our waste stream indicate that there is the potential to divert up to 50% of our waste through organics recycling. However, achieving that potential is hindered by the relative lack of accessible, affordable organics recycling services available to date – though we expect the availability of these services will expand as a growing number of cities and states develop incentives or mandates for organics recycling.
To date, we’ve conducted organics recycling pilots in seven of our restaurants in Central Florida and we’ve begun recycling organics in our 41 restaurants in Massachusetts to comply with a new statewide requirement.
Alongside these efforts, Darden participates in the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA) – a cross-sector industry initiative – to help us continue to build our knowledge and share our experiences working to reduce food waste.
Darden is also continually working to expand the volume of other materials we recycle. Nearly half of all Darden restaurants now have mixed recycling capabilities, and all our restaurants recycle 100% of their used cooking oil.
We also divert a significant volume of used carpet– including 60,000 pounds of carpet tiles that were removed from our restaurants for recycling in a single month last year – as a result of some large-scale remodeling efforts underway. In recent years, Darden has expanded its use of carpet tiles throughout our restaurants as a way to reduce waste and increase the use of recycled materials. By using carpet tiles, we only need to replace specific squares when they wear out – rather than needing an entire new roll of carpet. We also seek to partner with carpet suppliers who recycle.
Pursuing our Goal
In 2015, our landfill diversion rate was 29%, essentially flat compared to the year prior – and clearly a good distance from our ultimate goal of a 100% diversion rate. Our progress has been slower than anticipated over the past year, but we have a variety of initiatives underway – while at the same time the recycling infrastructure is becoming more developed – that we believe will accelerate our progress in the coming years.