Could Charging People for Uneaten Food in Restaurants Help Us Stop Wasting It?

An increasing number of restaurants are making people pay for getting more food than they can eat. That's a great idea.

Every year, the world wastes 1.3 billion tons of food, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. That's about 33 percent of all food produced annually. In rich nations alone, 222 million tons of food is lost by consumers outright throwing it into the garbage. That is almost the equivalent of all the food made in sub-Saharan Africa every year. In a word, our problem with food waste is disastrous.

At least one business in London is attempting to solve the problem commercially. Diners at the Kylin Buffet, a Chinese restaurant, have been surprised to find that they're charged a $32 "wastage" fee if they take more food from the buffet they can eat. "To avoid food wastage, we recommend you do not unnecessary [sic] overfill your plate," says a sign in the restaurant. "Please take only what you can eat." When customers complain about Kylin's wastage policy, as a woman recently did to the Daily Mail, the owner stands by his rules, saying, "we have to charge for wastage of food. We stand by our policies."

A Japanese buffet in Manhattan also charges customers a surcharge for not finishing what they take. And in Australia, a "guilty free" Japanese restaurant called Wafu charges 30 percent more to customers who don't eat everything on their plates. Wafu's chef, Yukako Ichikawa, says her goal is to make the world a more sustainable place. Besides requiring customers to eat everything they order, Ichikawa will also only let customers do takeout if they bring their own containers for the food.

Of course, it would be nice to temper people's tendency to bite off more than they can chew with rational suggestions that they simply stop wasting so much. But when talking doesn't work, appealing to people's pocketbooks often does. And not only might wastage charges keep people from wasting food; they could potentially lead people to be more thoughtful about how much food they need in the first place, which could have yet another benefit: helping to combat the world's obesity epidemic.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user stevendepolo

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