Background on food scraps

The U.S. generated 31.3 million tons of food waste in 2006, but only 680,000 tons were diverted from the landfill – that’s only a 2.2% recovery rate! This makes food waste the second largest material by weight headed to our landfills and a huge source of methane emissions. Momentum for change is picking up across the country as communities initiate programs to collect source separated food scraps from residents and businesses. Driven by diversion goals, concern for climate change, declining soil quality and decreasing landfill space, these communities are demonstrating food waste collection can be done well.

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Estimating tonnage for food discards

To set program goals, calculate potential landfill methane avoidance, and build public support, a first step is to estimate the quantities of source separated organics available. The tools below assist in providing rough estimates. Many programs can benefit from actual waste sorts.


According to the U.S. EPA, the individual waste generation rate is 4.3 lbs/person/day. To estimate the quantity of food waste generated by a community’s households, the following methodology can be used:

Population x 4.6 lbs/person/day รท 2000 = Total tons of MSW generated

The EPA report estimates that of the MSW generated, food scraps represent 14.1%. Using the MSW generation numbers calculated above for a community, tons of food scraps generated are:

Total tons generated x .141 = Tons of residential food scraps generated

(Source: Cascadia Consulting Group)

Full Service Restaurant

  • Generate 4,400 lbs waste/yr/employee (after recycling)
  • 66% are food scraps
  • 5% “compostable paper”
  • 6% “plastics”

Fast Food Restaurant

  • 4,250 lbs. waste/yr/employee (after recycling)
  • 52% food scraps
  • 12% “compostable paper”
  • 10% plastics

Grocery Stores

  • Generate 4,750 lbs waste/yr/employee (after recycling)
  • 65% food scraps
  • 6% “compostable paper”
  • 8% “plastics”

Large Hotels

  • 3,900 lbs. waste/yr/employee (after recycling)
  • 44% food scraps
  • 7% “compostable paper”
  • 5% “plastics”

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