Case Study: Work of Art Planning and Catering Waste Reduction Program (2000)

Facility Description

Work of Art is a catering firm located in the City of San Francisco with 8 full-time and 25 on-call staff. The firm offers a full range of catering for small and large events.

Waste Prevention Opportunity

The Work of Art (WOA) waste reduction program targets materials from every aspect of the catering operation including purchasing, food preparation, decorations, table service, and clean up. The firm caters approximately 200 events and serves more than 20,000 meals per year, generating approximately 9 tons of waste. Between 70 and 75 percent (by weight) of the total waste generation is compostable. Five 5 percent of the waste is bottles and cans. The remaining 20-25 percent is mixed waste.

Strategy and Approach

Seeking in 1999 to expand its cardboard/cans/bottles recycling program, WOA contacted the City of San Francisco’s SF Environment recycling program. The City directed them to a new compostable materials collection program operated by Golden Gate Disposal, the City’s commercial waste hauler and a division of parent company Norcal Waste Systems. The Golden Gate program is unique in that it accepts a wide range of compostable materials including vegetables, meat, bones, wood, and paper commingled in the same bin. These compostables are taken to Norcal’s Jepson Prairie Organics facility in Vacaville where it is processed for agricultural and landscaping uses.

Recognizing the financial and creative possibilities presented by this service, Work of Art management redesigned their processes to maximize the amount of divertible materials. Adopting the philosophy that “waste is a design flaw”, WOA reinvented their theme, service, and menu plans to develop “near zero waste” catering events. The goal of their business strategy is to provide a unique “green” event and setting at a competitive price without any actual or perceived lowering of quality for the customer.

By using their waste reduction planning process as a creative opportunity, WOA increased the distinctiveness, fun, and quality of all aspects of the customers’ experience. For example, event decorations and floral displays are now made from natural compostable materials. Nontraditional menu plans offer food in edible containers such as cones, wraps, and hollowed out vegetables and fruit. Served food leftovers are reduced by designing recipes around high quality foods and multiple unique taste experiences set in artful plate compositions rather than food volume. Compostable table settings such as wooden chopsticks minimize serviceware disposal. Menus that require traditional service use washable tableware and linens.

Wherever possible, the firm’s purchasing policy specifies waste-reduced packaging and “closing the recyling loop” by selecting organic produce and sustainable-production materials. For example, some fresh foods are purchased from suppliers who grow their vegetables using finished compost from the Norcal processing facility. Only unbleached and recycled-content or compostable paper products are purchased. The policy also specifies a preference for biodegradable cleaning supplies. Food waste is reduced through careful estimation of need, donation of unserved food to local food banks and shelters, and composting served food leftovers.

Work of Art added space efficient narrow cans for collecting compostable food prep materials in the kitchen and 90 gallon wheeled compostable bins to their waste storage area. The hauler provided all containers at no extra charge. Clear plastic liner bags allow easy checking of cans for contamination. Job descriptions were rewritten to include diversion duties and kitchen and service staffs were retrained in waste reduction processes. On the whole, expanding the waste reduction program required merely changing procedures from disposal to diversion and did not add any time or labor cost to either preparation or service. However, internal janitorial work did increase to accommodate separate pick-ups of the recyclable materials. Compost waste is collected twice a week by Golden Gate; a schedule appropriate to WOA’s generation and sanitation needs.

One distinctive feature of the operations is that WOA takes their waste reduction practices to catering event sites; for example, if green material collection is not available on-site, the staff hauls the bags of compostables back to Work of Art for proper handling.

Generally, WOA staff is enthusiastic about the program. Although contamination of materials was an initial problem, regular inspection by management, public recognition of achievements, and informal rewards have reduced that problem and given staff a mission and sense of fun. The program increased morale and reduced turnover as WOA staff sees their service as better for the environment than that of competing firms.

Program Performance

The City of San Francisco has voluntarily adopted a citywide waste reduction goal of 75 percent by weight by the year 2010; through its ambitious program, Work of Art is already meeting the 75 percent goal by diverting approximately 1,125 pounds of material per month. The firm also donates more than 500 pounds of prepared and servable food to the Food Runners charity each year. Almost all the paper products purchased now have recycled-content and most cleaning supplies are biodegradable.


Initial one time costs included reorganizing physical space at the back of the building to include separate storage bins for compostables, and modifying the business management plan and staff training program. Instructional signage, collection cans, bin and can stickers, and start-up advice were supplied for free by the waste hauler. However, the majority of business changes did not involve costs, only modifications of everyday practices. The few ongoing costs to operate the program, such as additional janitorial work, clear plastic trash bags, and more expensive recycled-content supplies are more than offset by disposal fee savings.


The waste hauler takes recyclables such as cardboard, cans, and bottles at no charge, and hauls compostable waste at a 30 to 50 percent discount (depending on volume) from the standard disposal fee.

Recognition and Publicity

The San Francisco Recycling Program recognized Work of Art by naming them as a Recycling Business of the Month in 2001. For outstanding waste prevention efforts, WOA received Waste Reduction Awards Program “WRAP” business awards in 2000 and 2001 from the California Integrated Waste Management Board. Local radio and other media have also profiled the firm.

The management of Work of Art believes that their “green and natural” and “near zero” waste approach provides a significant marketing advantage for the firm. The creativity, quality, and attention to detail required by the concept inspire confidence that the firm is capable of completing difficult assignments. The uniqueness of the experience creates a lasting impression and strong word of mouth advertising that has brought in new business.

Future Plans

Work of Art wants to close the gap on food packaging waste by specifying delivery of supplies in returnable or compostable containers. Finding affordable substitutes for disposable plastic serviceware for the few situations that still require them remains a challenge. The staff is also working with the banquet facilities their clients use to get organic waste bin service installed. WOA is coordinating with the California Restaurant Association to provide peer-education on waste reduction to chefs in the Bay Area. Work of Art and Norcal Waste Systems are working together to publicize the commingled compostable hauler service concept, and the goal of near-zero-waste food providers to other cities.

More Information

Work of Art
1226 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 552-1000

See a photo gallery of “green” event designs at and an example of the waste hauler’s composting poster at download.