Conestoga news

February 24, 2023 9:52 AM

Applied research project aims to reduce restaurant food waste and greenhouse gas

A team of Conestoga faculty, researchers and students have transformed the college’s student-run Bloom restaurant into a climate action Living Lab. Through funding provided by Colleges and Institutes Canada, the research team, led by Nicole Detlor, director, Food Research and Innovation Lab, and Stephen Thomson, director, Centre for Supply Chain Innovation, aims to demonstrate the impact and solutions to greenhouse emissions as they relate to food and food waste, as well as packaging.

Conestoga College - Bloom.jpg_jpg
A Conestoga research team has transformed the college’s student-run Bloom restaurant into a climate action Living Lab with the intent to reduce food waste and greenhouse gas.

Detlor and Thomson said that being aware of food waste and knowing the greenhouse gas impact of our meals can help consumers make sustainable choices. With this in mind, the research team began working with Bloom staff and set an ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse emissions and food waste at Bloom by 50 per cent by spring 2023. Eliminating single-use packaging for takeaway was also a priority.

“To understand how Bloom’s menu choices impact greenhouse gas emissions, the Living Lab team developed a model to determine the greenhouse gases associated with each ingredient in a dish,” explained Thomson. “The model enables the chef to enter a recipe and understand its associated greenhouse gases as well as the impact of substituting ingredients.”

To share emissions information on Bloom’s menu, simple icons were placed beside each menu item indicating its greenhouse gas contribution. Going forward, the research team will investigate whether these icons influenced guests’ purchasing decisions.

“What we’ve learned so far is that recipes containing meat-based proteins have higher emissions,” added Thomson. “We also know that greenhouse gas associated with food production is complex and nuanced. Although accuracy is important, having some general rules of thumb will help us make more mindful choices.”  

What you can do as a consumer:

  • Make mindful choices when consuming high greenhouse gas producing foods
    • Understanding the greenhouse gas impact of higher contributing ingredients enables you make decisions that align with your values
  • Prepare or order just enough food to eat (no food waste)
    • The disposal of food waste has a greenhouse gas impact, and any food being wasted has already contributed to greenhouse gas through production.
  • Eat what is in season locally
    • Reduce greenhouse gas associated with transportation

What you can do as a restauranteur:

  • Provide patrons with options with lower greenhouse gas impact options
  • Where possible, substitute lower greenhouse gas ingredients (or provide options where possible)
  • Use local suppliers to reduce transportation emissions
  • Use food waste audit results to ensure serving sizes are fully consumed

Food waste

The team is also working to reduce food waste at Bloom and undertook a food waste audit in fall 2022 with faculty and students in Conestoga’s Sustainability Business Management program in order to identify sources of waste and establish a baseline.

Through the audit, waste was separated into landfill, recyclables, compost and plate waste - uneaten food from the dining room. The team found that organics made up 76 per cent of the waste.

“Environmentally, when food is wasted, it also means the land, water, feed, fertilizer, fuel and other resources are also wasted,” said Detlor. “Reports indicate these wasted resources add up to more than 55 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions. It has also been reported that organic waste decomposing in landfills also contributes methane gas that is 25 more times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.”

Detlor added that restaurants like Bloom can look for patterns in food waste and try to make reductions. A FIFO (first-in first-out) or DOH (days on hand) system helps manage inventory, and establishing menus that use ingredients nearing expiry dates is also helpful.

Bloom’s audit found that plate waste often included side dish carbohydrates like bread or potatoes, so giving guests the opportunity to “opt in” to these options will help address waste.

As consumers, the research team advises that we look for our own patterns and ways to reduce, only purchase what we can consume, store food properly to achieve shelf-life, use leftovers and trimmings for stock and use a compost bin to reduce and impact at landfills.

Single-use plastics

The third area of priority for the research project was eliminating single-use containers. The Living Lab team collaborated with A Friendlier Company Inc. to provide Bloom’s Grab and Go counter with reusable containers in September 2022, eliminating single-use containers for meals as well as coffee and tea. Reusable options decrease demand for new containers and conserve the energy and raw materials used in the production of disposable containers.

“Again, there are simple things that consumers can do to make a difference,” said Detlor. “Bring your own reusable containers, ask your favourite restaurants for reusable options, and reuse your leftover containers at home whenever possible.”

For more information:


Bloom, an interactive live classroom where students are given the opportunity to practice a high level of service to paying guests, is located within Conestoga’s School of Hospitality & Culinary Arts at the Waterloo campus and welcomes guests for lunch and dinner services. Bloom also offers takeaway meals.

Food Research and Innovation Lab

Conestoga’s Food Research and Innovation Lab meets the needs of industry through education, training, research and technical expertise. The lab’s advanced facilities have proved essential in advancing solutions for small, medium and large businesses in the food and culinary sector by providing innovative solutions and support throughout the product development cycle that includes formula development, shelf-life studies, packaging testing, and scale-up using pilot plant equipment. Contact Nicole Detlor for more information.

Centre for Supply Chain Innovation

Conestoga's Centre for Supply Chain Innovation uses integrated supply chain systems thinking to support building sustainable, adaptable, agile, and resilient supply chains through applied research and development of highly qualified supply chain graduates. It aims to create an ecosystem that leverages interdisciplinary research to create and disseminate practical solutions for the complex issues facing today’s supply chains. Contact Stephen Thomson for more information.