How to Carry Out a Food Waste Source Assessment

The information outlined in the general assessment is your starting point but what you now need is more specific information about where this food waste originates from. To do this you must first identify the main food waste producing areas, or types of waste food in your business. Depending on your type of business the typical food waste generating areas will vary.

Food Waste Categories:

  • Plate waste – this is a key area in restaurants and cafes as this is food that is served but not eaten. In hospitals this may be referred to as ward waste
  • Unserved cooked food – regardless of your business this is an important waste. It is usually the most expensive as it has been prepared but not sold
  • Preparation waste – this waste is from food preparation prior to serving or selling. Depending on the policies in your business this can vary greatly
  • Canteen waste – in a canteen environment there may be only one bin where all food waste goes. In larger canteens the food waste coming from the canteen could be split into plate, prep and unserved
  • Spoils waste – this is waste through that has been damaged through poor stock control
  • Deli waste – depending on your retail business this could include all food or be split into preparation, unserved, spoiled, etc.
  • Unsold food products – for the retail sector this is food that goes past its use, best before or sell by date

Once you have identified the main areas or types of food waste you want to investigate, you should collect these food wastes separately. To do this you will need to put dedicated food waste bins in each area. Many may already have them in place but if not there are usually plenty of containers available within businesses for this purpose. In addition to these, there are a few other items that you need. Most you will have already but, if not, you can usually find alternatives easily.

What You’ll Need

  • weighing scales to weigh the waste. If you don’t have one, or can’t get one through your local LAPN contact, a domestic weighing scales will do. The problem with these is that they won’t provide detailed weights but they will give rough estimates. Remember to always take the weight of the bin into account when weighing.
  • Buckets/containers to hold the food waste from the different areas. These ideally should all be the same so that if you take an empty weight at the start then you can subtract that weight from all subsequent weights.
  • Bin signs. The separation of food waste usually requires a small change in way people do things. It is vital that this is communicated to the relevant staff and that signs are put up at the relevant points around the business to remind staff where the food waste is to go.
  • Note pad or Information Recording Sheet. These are used to make notes and record the weights of food waste generated at the different areas.
  • Camera to take pictures. A picture tells a thousand words and when reporting on your findings these can be of great help. In addition they will help you remember some specifics that you may forget when finalising your results.

At this stage you should have the food waste being separated according to the different areas relevant to your business. Depending on volumes these containers may be emptied at the end of the day or periodically during the day if there is a lot of food waste. In either case, weigh the food waste from each of different bins whenever it is being disposed of to your brown bin and record the information on your recording sheets. By weighing each of these at the end of each meal/day you can quickly identify the main areas or meals of concern. Once you have gathered the information you can use spreadsheets to collate and graph your information. Graphical representations are the easiest way to show these results.


Try and do an assessment for at least 3 days and ideally a week.

In the case of the food service sector (including staff canteens, hospitals, etc.) try to record the number of covers for each meal. this will provide a basis for comparing days of different levels of activity.

Use clear plastic bags so you can see what is in the bins without having to open them up. Explain to staff what you are doing, why you are doing it, and make sure to use signs on the bins.

Beware of liquid food waste going down the drain – often food is reused and made into soups and sauces. If this is happens make sure to include it as it is a waste as well.

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