Think Twice About That Chinese Takeout

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

Four Seasons - Chinese Restaurant - Chinatown, London - restaurant signI was reading an article the other day about a socially responsible, green business called EcoScraps that was founded in Utah only last year.   The company’s founders, then students at BYU, noticed the incredible amount of food scraps that was ending up in the garbage cans of a favorite restaurant and decided to compost the waste into potting soil, bag it and sell it.

They figured since the cost of the raw materials was nothing, there was good profit to be made with this novel idea.

And indeed there was!

Today, a mere months later, EcoScraps collects about 20 tons of food waste each day from over 70 restaurants, grocery stores, produce wholesalers, and Costco stores around Utah.   The waste is then composted into potting soil which is sold for about $8.50 per bag in nurseries and garden stores around the Western USA.

Company sales are estimated to reach over $1.5 million in 2011!

Along with development of a killer business model that encourages everyone involved to do the right thing, BYU classmates Craig Martineau, Brandon Sargent, and Dan Blake discovered something very interesting along the way.

They discovered that the scraps from Chinese restaurants weren’t very good compared with other restaurants.

Not by a long shot!

In fact, Blake says that, “The compost we made from Chinese restaurant dumpsters was terrible.  It killed plants within 12 hours.

Notice how Mr. Blake did not distinguish between high end Chinese restaurants and cheap, back alley ones where you wonder why there aren’t any stray cats hanging around.  He lumped them all into the same category as “terrible”.

What could possibly be in the Chinese restaurant scraps that is so bad that it kills plants when composted?  It’s anyone’s guess on that one.  An overreliance on GM ingredients perhaps?  Maybe the chemical residue from disinfecting those nasty, factory farmed chickens?

I for one know that I get killer headaches from all the MSG when I eat at these types of establishments.

Be warned that Chinese restaurants that claim to be MSG free are not.  A “No MSG” sign in the window of a Chinese restaurant only means that they don’t add any additional MSG to the fare.  There is plenty of MSG already in there with all the prepackaged food and sauces that are used.

So, the next time you are considering that Chinese takeout, remember that the “food” you are planning to buy would kill your flower or vegetable garden if you composted it!  This should be motivation enough to go home and prepare the meal yourself!

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Source:  Inc., May 2011

Picture Credit


Comments (51)

  1. So, the Chinese scrap compost kills plants. I see another business opportunity here. Sell THAT compost as a weed control product! Win Win!

  2. I have several problems with this.

    One: You should never compost meat, it increases anarobic bacteria and other dangerous bacterias that will kill plants because they kill off the beneficial organisms in the soil that help plants take up nutrients.

    two: Did the students think to group “chinese food” versus all other food? because I find it hard to believe that they would compost just one ethnics roups food and then not do it to another. especially since that would not be cost effective at all.

    three: The “scraps” from chinese food have heavier amounts of saly from soy sauce which is 98% salt. And salt draws water from plant cells but salt does not break down, so when you have lots of salty foods (assuming they did have the audacity to pick out one ethnic groupd food versus any other) the asian food has a much higher salt content simply from the salty seasonings used such as soy sauce, fish sauce, etc. etc. Salt added to soil will over salinate the soil leading to plant death because it draws water from the plant cells. BUT this could be present in any other cultures food as well.

    four: the people that wrote this had no evidence that backed up the allogation of the compost killing the plant in 12 hours. In fct I would find it to be highly improbably that any plant would die in 12 hours especially if it was being transplanted which is the only way to get the compost to the roots. The compost may not have been the killer, it may have been false transplanting techniques since plants are so tempermental, even crimping the stem a tiny bit can prevent the plant from getting water, therefor leading to plant death and wilt. Giving the illusion that it was the chinease compost that killed the plant.

    five: how many tests were done? only 1 test is not conclusive enough to claim that all chinese food is bad. Let alone say that all compost made from chinese food scraps will kill the plant.

    six: when anything is fried in oil, or cooked in oil which the chinese use lots of but so do many other cultures: the oil does not break down, and will build up in the soil and prohibits plants from taking up nutrients because it blocks nutrient reseptors and also does not allow water to come near the roots.


    That should make you think twice. Watermelons so chemically enhanced that they explode in the fields? Really? That’s just a little ridiculous, don’t you think?

    Also, as for your comment about organic compost, is using human waste (if properly allowed to break down and if it’s from healthy people) that bad? After all, healthy animal manure is typically used for fertilizer here in Germany, especially on the “Bio” (organic) products. It smells terrible right after they spray, but it’s way fewer chemicals.

  4. I did not even think about the no MSG really not meaning much since they do use the prepackaged sauces and such. Thanks so much for this info! Every now and then we get takeout Chinese, but we may not anymore! Chinese is sooo easy to cook at home anyway! We just had some tonight!

    Nickole @

  5. The Chinese food compost sounds disgusting. But it got me wondering – do we want to use any compost from 70 restaurants, grocery stores, produce wholesalers, and Costco stores? After all we don’t know what types of foods they’re using and it’s not like we can separate the good compost from the bad. It’s worth thinking about.

    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist May 19, 2011 at 11:41 am

      That’s a good point Hannah. After finding out about EcoScraps, I would personally stick with homemade compost. Not even sure about organic compost as I think I read somewhere last week that it was made with human waste or something gross like that.

  6. I know…completely off the subject!! One question – do you culture carrots? I tried the recipe in NT, but they were awful! Too salty by far!

  7. My goodness, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to find REAL food these days. Look at most of the so called raw cheeses and nuts that are actually pasteurized in the health food stores. Thank God for the real food movement that is fluorishing throughout the United States. If it wasn’t for concerned people who care about their health and the health of others, we all would probably have pasteurized, imitation meat with irradiated veggies for dinner.

  8. I’ve come to that conclusion the past couple years after visiting the former Chinese restaurants I used to eat at.

    There is an Asian market nearby, so if I get the taste for Asian food, it’s not hard to pick up a few things and make something myself. Fried in pastured lard of course. :)

  9. That is very interesting! I made the mistake of eating chinese take out at the mall last friday and boy oh boy, my guts were just killing me. It sat like a hard lump making me bloated and ‘liquidy’ feeling for almost 4 days. I swore to my husband that I will not make that mistake again!!! Gross. I find that eating healthy and more traditional, your body reacts more violently to processed foods the odd time that you do have them. Cheap ice cream too – wow, within an hour of eating it, I feel nauseous and have a major headache. Put my ice cream maker’s bowl in the freezer the other day, ready to make my own again :)
    Thanks for the awesome articles!! I LOVE your website!

  10. Oh gross! I admit I have a few asian resteraunts I like to frequent…hmmm? I will be heading over to there websites right now to do a little more research. It sure is amazing how resiliant our bodies are even if we feel lousey, look at what we do or used to put into it?
    My recipe blog has a started segment about Good Chinese take out (from scratch!) 1 recipe in and more to come, with a little instructions and knowledge you can make excellent tasting and good for you chinese food :)


  11. And that’s the whole point! ANYTHING can be made healthy if cooked the right way with real ingredients. However it may not taste the same as we are “used” to. The key is to get “used” to real food again. I’m so proud of my kids, who were like anyone else’s in America a few years ago, who have totally supported me in healthy eating and now taste all the sugar and chemicals in our food and say “no thanks” to samples and treats given at church etc. they bring Their own raw milk to summer camps and chia hope they survive the week! My husband… he still has more to learn. LOL!

  12. If anyone is under the delusion that the most popular Chinese restaurant dishes are in any way nutritionally different from other high-fat, high-sodium, MSG-added, deep-fried restaurant food, they are substituting racism for reason. Most restaurants use factory-farmed chicken; most restaurants use cheap oils for frying; most restaurants use GMO foods and additives, including MSG and related flavorings. Fried food doesn’t compost well because the surface is dry, and it’s usually very oily and highly spiced, which isn’t good for microbial life. Chinese home cooking, and that at genuine homestyle Chinese restaurants, is excellent stuff.

  13. I wonder if it is all the salt (soy sauce) in everything. Most traditional garden plants/veggies cannot tolerate high sodium levels in their soil.

  14. Anything composted should only be vegetable or fruit. no meat or oils should ever be in composted materials. picking up kitchen scraps at a restaurant is likely to have other not so desirable items in it. if it’s also mixed with table scraps then it has sauces, oils, meats, etc in it for sure.
    I have been to many bulk oriental food shops and their food is no different than you find at any restaurant supplier, if we are talking vegetables and fruits. I find it insulting (and I’m not Chinese) anyone would single out chinese packaged food/restaurant food full of junk when you can walk into any grocery store/american restaurant and find the same thing. Everything has “no added MSG” on it now.
    GM foods are in costco and other higher end brand grocery stores too and thanks to the new law being passes we will see more of it.
    BTW cats are carnivorous and would only hang around places with raw meat/fish, they don’t eat vegetables or rice or sugar laden sauces. at least not wild cats, now house cats, poor things have a terrible cooked diet.
    I think rather than point the finger at the restaurant the finger pointing should be directed at the dumpster divers. They did say they took it from dumpster, which would be filled with all sorts of rotting (not just decomposing) garbage. If they were going to collect veg and fruit scraps for compost I think they should supply the establishment with collection bins for this raw produce only. Not a mixture of everything that goes in the dumpster. Pointing fingers at others for their dead plants seems very irresponsible to me.
    Also it makes me wonder why they separate out the chinese food compost from the “other” you would think it would go into one huge composter.
    Having said all that, I never eat at chinese restaurants, I can taste the same yucky oil in every food item. But then I never eat at other restaurants either. You are only fooling yourself when you think it’s chinese places that use factory chicken. Once you start eating real food, restaurant food is never good. I can hardly stand my husband’s yearly Christmas party at the Hilton or Marriott for that matter. Once in a while we will go to a nice restaurant to eat and spend a fortune and leave saying why did we do that! All the food tastes the same!
    Do yourself a favor and eat at home and compost your own organic, I hope, scraps and don’t buy “garbage compost” from restaurants dumpsters which has got to be the worst place ever to get your produce for compost. Be more self sufficient!
    Okay… I’ll get off my soap box now… have a nice day! ;o)

    • I agree with much of what you say in this comment for sure. However, I do think that Chinese restaurant food is some of the worst food of all that you can eat when you are out so EcoScraps point about the deadly Chinese restaurant compost is a valid one.

    • We are talking about the food and the preparation of it .. NOT the people who work there who oftentimes are not even Chinese! I think it is important to also point out that it is the Americanization of Chinese food that is horrible. Traditional Chinese food is fantastic.

    • @Kelly, I’m pretty sure they were just having some fun. But there is some truth to it… I lived in Taiwan for a year and half and saw a man slaughtering a dog out behind a restaurant once. I must have looked like I was going to scream, because he put his finger to his lips “Shhh.”

      • I know people from Asian countries that have eaten cat and dog. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, anymore than eating a cow or a pig (anathema to some groups!), but it’s our culture that makes it so.

    • I have sadly discovered that restaurant animal fats have scary preservatives in them. So they may be only a little bit better than the rancid vegetable oils! It would be a very rare restaurant that would seek out fresh animal fat to cook in. And way to expensive for them! Bummer!

  15. I don’t doubt there are a FEW reasons why it’s poisonous…but my mother was deathly (yes, DEATHLY) allergic to MSG and so purchased Chinese food was never possible for us…until there was a “MSG FREE” one that opened, and she ate theirs without a single trip to the emergency room. I can’t speak for all of them, obviously.

  16. Pretty disgusting. I’ve read many warnings on the dangers of manure or compost that you buy and don’t know where it originally came from such as the ” mystery toxic sludge” that was being sold around the northern California area.

  17. Haha Pavil, that’s a good one! I don’t doubt that Chinese food with all the MSG and HFCS in the sauces, etc would kill plants. Better make a Real Chinese Food recipe e-book!

  18. I frequently go to the chinese store in my town to get some quail eggs and fresh veggies at good prices, and I noticed that in almost all packaged food there is MSG..crackers, dried fish, dumplings…everything. They even sell bottles of MSG powder there.
    But, I still love the store for their fresh produce!

  19. Pavil, The Uber Noob May 18, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I thought that reason one never found stray alley cats hanging around Chinese restaurants was because … well, never mind.


    • I thought that too!! Years ago I stopped at a Chinese restaurant in Pagosa Springs, CO. I left my dog out in the truck with the window down. Looking out the window of the restauant I saw the kitchen help out there discussing my dog who was still in the truck. She was a Newfoundland and obviously from their gestures and laughing they were not discussing her charm, which she had. Not saying all are like that, but it happened there back in the early 1980’s.

      Sorry Sarah, I know this is not what your post was about. And yes the post is quite disturbing and should be.


  20. Sarah, after interrogating the staff at many Chinese restaurants, I am convinced that they use the cheapest oil for all frying. The only answer I could get from any of them was “vegetable oil” .

    Most Chinese restaurant food is stir fried or deep fried. The cheapest oil is likely to be cottonseed oil., the oil that hydrogenated shortening is made from, or soy, or canola. All of which are very bad choices, according to the Weston A Price Foundation, who I trust. These oils are very cheap, and may be reused, which would make them even worse.

    It is no surprise that food saturated with that stuff would be rejected by alley cats. Why should we humans eat it ?

    What you have shared about the compost is very disturbing. Thanks for exposing the truth, once again.

    The traditional healthy Chinese cooking oil is natural pork lard, but I doubt you can find a single Chinese restaurant in the US that uses it.

    • There is an epidemic of “three-highs” in mainland Chinese population centers these days: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol. The Chinese have been using cheap vegetable oils for decades now. This tsunami of health crisis is coming to a head.

  21. Pavil, The Uber Noob May 18, 2011 at 9:58 am

    This posting highlights just how gullible we Americans are when it comes to nutrition. I am beginning think that cattle are smarter. I think that somewhere along the way we have lost our dignity.



Leave a Comment

Login to your account

Can't remember your Password ?

Register for this site!