Recently, we provided compost containers and staffing for a wedding. We were dismayed that there was not a plan in place for the leftover edible food, which is why food donation is the topic of this blog post. Of course we were able to compost it, but we would have been happier if it fed people instead.

Instead of pointing fingers at the planners, we turned it around and asked ourselves how we could have helped to prevent this. We’ve changed the zero waste event inquiry form on our website to include this question: What is your plan for distributing/donating leftover edible food? With these potential answers:

—I will provide to-go containers and direct the caterers on how to fill them for guests.

—I have consulted with my planner/caterer/venue on how to manage the leftover edible food for donation.

 —I have not yet made a plan and need some resources/ideas.


Whether or not the person filling out the request decides to use our services, at least we will have given them the idea to make a plan for the leftover edible food.

Writing this blog post is another way we hope to help solve the problem.

Save The Food

You may have seen billboards like this “Best If Used” one that were part of NRDC’s campaign to prevent food waste. But maybe you didn’t realize that they have a whole website full of resources. The first way to prevent food waste is to order or prepare the right amount of food. They have created a tool called The Guest-Imator: A Dinner Party Calculator That Estimates How Much You Need To Have to Keep Your Guests Full & Happy.

Good Samaritan Food Donation Act

You’ve probably heard someone somewhere along the line say that they can’t donate food because of liability. That has not been true since October 1, 1996 when President Bill Clinton signed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act to encourage donation of food and grocery products to non-profit organizations for distribution to individuals in need.

Wedding or Other Gift-Giving Gathering

If you have a registry, you might consider listing to-go containers on your registry. The task of managing the leftovers project could also be a gift that one of your guests could give you. Like that cool aunt who won’t stop talking about composting until everyone is doing it.

Who Receives the Leftovers?

This is very site-specific. The good news is there are all kinds of options. You could package them up for your guests and put them by the exit. Any that aren’t taken could be distributed elsewhere.


A lot of leftovers are offered to local firefighters. Before you package them into individual containers, call them and see if they would like them and accept them in the containers they are already in.

Community Fridges

Most community fridges accept donations 24/7 and are located outdoors in several Chicago and Evanston locations.  Check below to see if they are near your event or on someone’s way home. Be sure to read their guidelines for accepting donations.

Chicago: The Love Fridge

Evanston: Evanston Community Fridges

Food Pantries

Greater Chicago Food Depository has a handy map for finding food pantries near you. Follow the Find Food prompts on their website.

As we discover other organizations that will accept donations, we will update this list.


No matter where it’s going and who it’s going to, labels are helpful. If caterers are packaging up leftovers, differentiating between meat and veggie is helpful. If you’re donating to community fridges or food pantries, be more specific. The contents and the date it was packaged are needed in those situations.

Save The Packaging

It can be helpful to hold off on breaking down bakery boxes until the very end of the event. These can be used to package up leftover baked goods. The same goes for the packaging that disposables come in. You might be very happy to be able to reuse those packages at the end of the event for either your own purposes or for ease of donation.

Planners, Caterers and Production Managers

Maybe you plan many events or productions that serve food in lots of different locations. You might consider using a service like Replate to help you find places to donate. Another organization, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, based in New York City, opened a Chicago branch in 2022.


I recently heard of this delightfully creative solution: package up the leftovers and sell them to support the organization! I love this idea so much. If you’ve got your own ideas to add to this list, send them our way.

Author Details
Zero Waste Consultant | Collective Resource, Inc.

Mary Beth strongly believes that, “It’s always better to be doing something rather than nothing.” If you’re thinking of composting at home, she can help you work out what your particular “something” can be.

She’s confident a solution can be tailored to fit anyone’s needs and ambitions. “Anyone who eats can be a CRI customer, whether you are an individual or a large organization. I want you to understand the advantages of composting, and I can show you how CRI can make it easy.” Mary Beth has successfully designed waste diversion strategies for individuals, schools, houses of worship and other communities. She’s received the governor’s Environmental Hero award for her work at her daughter’s school. Whether you’re starting with a backyard bin, a kitchen bucket, a worm farm, or large-scale commercial collection, Mary Beth can be your good-natured guide.