Recycling Survey, Part 4: Restaurants


One of the groups we definitely wanted to feature with this survey was the food service category. Our restaurants and caterers have huge waste management issues representing a considerable business expense. Restaurants generate almost every conceivable waste type: cardboard, glass, plastic, paper, food scraps, and spent cooking oil. The survey results showed that much of what you would expect is being recycled at most establishments. Corrugated cardboard from incoming shipments is a commonly recycled item and accounts for considerable volume. Food storage containers (glass, metal cans, plastic) did not seem to be routinely recycled, especially for those businesses which did not feature take out. The reasons cited for this were usually lack of space and available time to do the sorting. Cross contamination was an issue for some as was the whole issue of adding to their skunk problem. Sharky’s Cantina, at the time of the survey, was donating beverage containers to a local scout group as part of a fundraising drive. These are fairly common methods of dealing with deposit containers and posting the fact that beverage containers are being recycled to benefit a charity might provide some incentive for customers to be more careful about where they place the recyclables.

We noted that the more a restaurant recycled, the greater variety of materials it seemed to handle. For example, restaurants which separated food scraps for local framers usually recycled more containers. Take-out businesses represented a very different situation. Those businesses would provide for bottles and cans but again, the cross contamination issue caused by non-compliant customers was a definite deterrent to better recycling. One of the more efficiently handled recyclables is used cooking oil. Cooking oil has always been valuable as a recyclable and in the past was collected by rendering plants which used it to manufacture “new” oil. Now it is processed into biofuel and is routinely collected by biofuel users both on and off island.

Many of our local restaurants have developed ways to minimize waste. A few months ago we explained some ways that our seafood retailers dealt with materials like shells (taken home and placed on the driveway) and fish carcasses (these routinely go to our lobster fishery as bait) but some restaurants also set aside their food scraps for pick-up by local farmers. We didn’t specifically seek out farmers that were interested in picking up restaurant food waste, these arrangements seem to happen over time, but one of our survey takers was able to assist Linda Jeans restaurant by lining them up with a local pig farmer. We were later told by Linda Jeans’ that separating the food scraps was easy and the savings were not only instantaneous but significant.

The catering sector represents another great opportunity that may still be underdeveloped. When VCS tried to create a zero waste event for the celebration of their 40th anniversary a few years ago, it was not only a success but generated many follow-up inquiries on how this could be done at other seasonal and year round events. We demonstrated that most of the waste generated at an event could be recycled in some way as long as some degree of planning took place prior to the event. Most of the waste actually requiring disposal was the result of what people brought in with them or what vendors brought in (despite being asked to help us make the event waste free). This one event helped generate interest in the use of biodegradable materials on the island and many events over the years have become strong advocates for recycling and waste minimization. The Slow Food events are perhaps the most successful at creating near zero waste events. Many caterers are responding to the requests of their clients and becoming far “greener” with their services. VCS has put together a brochure which describes some basic information on how to approach a zero waste event.

The use of biodegradables and compostables seems to be on the increase wherever that is practical but the lack of a full scale compost facility still hinders efforts to maximize the reuse options for these materials. The technologies for composting on a municipal scale are readily available.

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