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October 22, 2021

Weckerly's Ice Cream, Birchtree Catering among Philly businesses joining effort to reduce food waste

A new city program will help restaurants develop more sustainable practices

Environment Sustainability
Food Waste Program Sven Scheuermeier/Unsplash

The Philadelphia Food Waste Business Challenge will provide resources to help participating restaurants prevent, donate and recycle wasted food.

Six restaurants and caterers in Philadelphia have committed to lowering their carbon footprints by reducing food waste and developing sustainable business practices as part of a new pilot program. 

The city's Office of Sustainability has introduced the program, called the Philadelphia Food Waste Business Challenge, to investigate ways to reduce restaurant food waste. Run in partnership with the Center for EcoTechnology, the program will provide resources to help participating businesses prevent, donate and recycle wasted food.

The first businesses chosen to join the challenge are Earth - Bread + Brewery, Bar Hygge, Weckerly's Ice Cream, Birchtree Catering, Musi BYOB, and The Random Tea Room. A second group will be added on a rolling basis.

The Center for EcoTechnology will evaluate each business and offer strategies to implement over the course of several months. Each business will be tasked with assessing its food waste and developing an action plan to reduce it going forward. 

"I think we've always been good at being a sustainable company, but I hope that the city can help us improve our knowledge and expertise to become the best sustainable caterer in Philadelphia," said Allegra Derengowski, owner of Birchtree Catering. "I appreciate that we are then helping be part of the larger conversation around waste in Philadelphia."

The program is part of the Office of Sustainability's efforts to achieve the city's goal of zero waste by 2035, eliminating the use of incinerators and landfills entirely.

"We're pretty aware of where we generate food waste, and we're fairly aware of how we could better divert some of that, not that there's a ton of it, but we'd like to get to zero," said Andy Satinsky, co-owner of Weckerly’s Ice Cream in Fishtown. "We haven't had the opportunity to put the time into developing concrete, lasting systems that address food waste, specifically how to re-source it. I look forward to learning more about that, and putting plans in place to do that."

Earth - Bread + Brewery, located in Mount Airy, has focused on implementing sustainable waste practices since its opening. Owner Peggy Zwerver, who is also part-owner of Bar Hygge, said the program may help improve the business's sustainable practices.

"Earth has been around for 13 years and our focus has always been sustainability and reducing waste, reducing our footprint," Zwerver said. "We've always composted all of our organic waste, and we're big recyclers."

In 2019, the city evaluated the baseline level of food waste in a collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council. They estimated 214,000 tons of food waste is generated in the city each year, with 27% of it created by restaurants and caterers. 

The city's program is based on programs run by Denver, Colorado and Nashville, Tennessee.

Denver’s Food Matters Restaurant Challenge asked participating restaurants to choose at least one strategy to prevent food waste for the duration of the program, which ran from late 2019 to 2020. The restaurants donated unused food to other organizations, composted necessary waste and were audited both before and after the program to measure the impact of the program on waste diversion.

At the beginning of the pilot, the restaurants were diverting 18% of their food waste from landfills. By the end, they were diverting up to 70%.

Philadelphia's program will run through next spring. Applications for the second group of businesses closes Oct. 31. A final report will include information on waste data, participation barriers and insights from each business.