Restaurateurs Are Finding Creative Ways To Dispose of Waste With Scrap Collector Systems
With 1,200 to 1,500 customers a week, the Kingfisher Bar and Grill in Tucson, Arizona, generates a lot of garbage. In an average week, the restaurant produces enough trash to fill two 8-yard-long dumpsters with unrecyclable trash and food waste, two 8-yard-long dumpsters with unwaxed cardboard, one 50-gallon barrel with glass bottles, and three to four 50-gallon barrels with plastic, tin and aluminum, says Jim Murphy, owner and executive chef.
And that’s just one restaurant. Restaurants such as the Kingfisher Bar and Grill and other foodservice operations dispose of millions of tons of waste every week. In order to reduce the amount of waste they produce, restaurant-and-hospitality-industry members use traditional methods, like composting, as well as new approaches such as scrap collector systems. In the process, they help to conserve precious natural resources. The four owners of the Kingfisher Bar and Grill feel a responsibility to recycle, considering the “huge” amounts of waste that their restaurant generates every day, week, month and year, says Murphy. “It’s important to us as businessmen to do this.”
Independent thinkers use Waste Collectors
At the Kingfisher Bar and Grill, recycling and waste reduction are part of the heart and soul of the seven-year-old operation. Although the restaurant uses numerous scrap collection systems, the most important ingredient is effort. “The biggest thing we do is we try,” says Murphy.
By recycling all unwaxed cardboard, the restaurant reduces its trash pickups to one per week. Employees rinse all aluminum cans and plastic jugs for recycling. The vegetable food waste is distributed among two cooks who take it home for their own personal compost piles and a dishwasher who feeds some of the scraps to the livestock on his working farm.
All glass beer bottles from the busy bar are recycled too. As for the wine bottles, a local man cuts the necks off and uses them to make a product called a “Delta Blues Slider.” The Delta Blues Slider is a tool that blues musicians use to create a certain sound by sliding it on guitar strings while their fingers strum. “Major [blues] players use them and they’re all from our bottles,” says Murphy.
At The Angry Trout in Grand Marais, Minnesota, co-owners and husband and wife George Wilkes and Barb LaVigne have made a commitment to reducing waste and recycling ever since their 50-seat operation opened 11 years ago. Employees save food waste collector products and pack it into biodegradable bags made of cornstarch for composting. But all meat products and other types of food waste go to the dogs. Local dog mashers — people who run dog sleds — happily take the scraps and feed them to their canines. The pooches like everything but the salad, says LaVigne. “They eat fish skins and chicken trimmings and stuff like that,” she says. Restaurant employees store the nonvegetable food waste for the doggie dinners in a bucket in a cooler.
Operators need to keep in mind that anything subsequently fed to animals needs to be sterilized in accordance with federal and local standards. Leftovers and takeout food are packed in reusable containers that employees sign out to customers who are expected to bring them back. The Angry Trout serves three kinds of keg beer but no bottled varieties. LaVigne and Wilkes also buy as much local and organic produce as possible.
All of those practices don’t just save the operation money — they reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. LaVigne says she doesn’t have any hard numbers on how much money her operation saves or loses using all of those food scrap collector methods, but she believes the cost to the environment would be much higher if they did not employ them. And the co-owners get a sense of satisfaction from doing everything they can to conserve natural resources and be earth-friendly. “It’s a restaurant you can feel good about going to, because it’s a business trying to do something in a helpful way,” says LaVigne.
Setting an example with Scrap Collector Systems
In 1991, Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald’s USA implemented its comprehensive Waste Reduction Action Plan (WRAP). Because of its size and purchasing power, McDonald’s USA has attempted to do more than just recycle within its own restaurants — it’s working to influence its suppliers to be more environmentally aware. For example, the company now specifies that all of its suppliers package their food supplies in corrugated boxes with a minimum of 40 percent recycled content. WRAP has been a “massive project,” says Bob Langert, director of public and community affairs, and a company environmental leader.
The year that the WRAP program began, McDonald’s replaced its traditional polystyrene-foam containers with lightweight cardboard boxes. The company recycles its shipping boxes and makes them into bags. The waste oil from frying is separated into containers, picked up by recyclers, and used in the making of soaps and cosmetics.
Since WRAP was established, McDonald’s has eliminated 297 million pounds of packaging through initiatives such as reducing the size of napkins, straws and Happy Meal bags. The chain also uses lighter-weight paper for sandwich wraps. In most units, countertops are made of recycled aluminum, trays are made from recycled plastic bottles and Playland equipment is constructed using recycled tires.
Four-legged recycling machines
One of the newer recycling methods being employed by operators involves some unlikely partners — farm animals. At the Hilton East Brunswick in East Brunswick, New Jersey, the operation’s management linked up with the Perth Amboy, New Jersey-based Enviro-Feed, Inc. Enviro-Feed provides the hotel with recycling containers and then, for $50 a ton, the company removes the food waste. Once the scraps are sterilized according to federal and local standards, the company turns them into dry pellets and serves them to cows, pigs and other livestock.
Hilton East Brunswick Food and Beverage Director Roger Simon says that the hotel typically produces about 15 to 20 tons of garbage a month, about 60 percent of which is food scraps. To have the food scraps hauled away cost the operation about $2,000 a month. Simon estimates that the hotel will realize savings of about $20,000 a year by recycling the food scrap collector system products. ” With today’s population overgrowth, the crunch on the resources available to us and the overcrowding of the dumping grounds in the Northeast, it just makes sense all around,” says Simon. And there is almost no additional work associated with this new system, he adds. “We just need to keep the recycling bins clean, because the food will be used for consumption [by animals] down the road.”
At the Mohegan Sun Casino, which is on an Indian reservation in Uncasville, Connecticut, most of the waste generated by its 5,500 employees and 20,000 patrons a day comes from food and its packaging, preparation and residuals. Although the operation is much larger than the Hilton, the Mohegan Casino is also using four-legged friends to help reduce waste as well as hauling-and-tipping fees.
The scraps go to a nearby pig farm, and the casino even makes some money in the process, says Norman Richards, director of environmental management. For the approximately 2,190 tons of food scraps the casino sends to the pig farm every year, it saves $183,960. The 52 tons of cooking grease generated by the operation’s deep fryers each year are sold to a company that makes animal feed, bringing the casino an additional $3,120 in revenue, says Richards.
By partnering with the pig farm, the casino is also helping the farm to be environmentally friendly. Because the hogs have the casino’s food scrap collector products to dine on, the local farmer doesn’t have to use fertilizers and pesticides to grow corn for feed.
Closing The Loop With Scrap Collector Systems
Working with a pig farm is just one small part of the complex integrated recycling program at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Most of the recycling and waste-reduction efforts end up being linked in a circular process that results in minimal environmental impact and substantial cost savings for the entire operation.
The 398 tons of corrugated, unwaxed cardboard disposed of each year at the casino are sent to a recycling company, generating $33,432. And 261 tons of bottles, cans and plastic are also recycled, bringing the casino about $21,924.
Composting some waste allows the casino to make its own fertilizer for gardens and grounds, so it doesn’t have to contribute to the destruction of bogs where peat has formed over thousands of years. Other small ways the casino minimizes its waste include ordering bulk items, such as milk containers, from companies that package their food in recycled plastic cartons. The casino recently hired a full-time aquaculture expert so that it may eventually raise fish on the property for use in its foodservice outlets.
At the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois, recyclables are also being used to benefit other zoo operations. Last spring, the zoo began a pilot project in which customers were provided with biodegradable eating utensils in the zoo’s foodservice areas. The compostable utensils were made of 100 percent natural, renewable resources such as cornstarch and cotton seed. Zoo staff encouraged diners to separate used utensils by disposing of them in special recycling containers.
Discarded cutlery was then ground up and composted, and the resulting substance was used as a natural fertilizer on the zoo’s grounds. “This is one example of the projects we’re working on,” says Human Nutrition Coordinator Linda Pribyl. “We will continue with other earth-friendly practices, such as buying in bulk and recycling cardboard, plastic and cans.”
Saving Green With Food Scrap Collector Systems
Since each restaurant and foodservice operation has different waste-reduction needs, what works for one establishment may not work for another. “Restaurants have to look at what kinds of waste they produce, and ask questions such as ‘Is it wet or dry?’ ” says Chaz Miller, director of state programs at the National Solid Waste Management Association in Washington DC.
Analyzing how much and what kind of waste you produce includes considering whether your restaurant serves a lot of bar drinks, which might mean you may want to set up a glass-recycling program. If you produce large quantities of fat or grease, it can usually be collected quickly by rendering companies for conversion into various products, Miller says.
How expensive the process will be is another factor to consider when settling on a recycling program. The cost depends on factors such as the operation’s total revenue, local laws and hauling costs. There are no federal recycling laws, so each state has its own set of regulations. “There is no safe rule to say ‘It costs less or it costs more,’ ” says Miller. “In the Northeast, where there are high waste-disposal rates, it might be cheaper to recycle. It might be more expensive to recycle in the Mountain region and in the Southwest,” where disposal rates are lower.
A worthwhile effort
For operator Jim Murphy, it isn’t about the money. Whether all of the environmentally friendly practices at the Kingfisher Bar and Grill actually save the operation any money in the end is beside the point, he says. “The point is our kids. There’s four owners here and we feel it’s our responsibility. Is it worth it? Every little bit is worth it.”