Recycling is good. A systematic approach is even better.
By: Brian Ward
Everybody knows recycling, as a general topic, is a Good Thing. Yes, there are some exceptions—certain materials don’t lend themselves to it, and certain localized situations aren’t conducive to it. But overall, the concept is so commonsensical that you wonder why we didn’t do more of it decades ago.
But recycling, especially starting from scratch, can be an overwhelming hodgepodge of defining needs and then gathering up disparate service providers to handle various materials. Not to mention that in some parts of the country, recycling certain materials isn’t yet possible, at least not economically so.
To slap some order on the chaos, last summer Chris Moyer, manager of the Conserve/Solutions for Sustainability initiative at the National Restaurant Association, addressed “Waste Reduction & Diversion Trends” at FER's Multiunit Foodservice Equipment Symposium for noncommercial operators.
Order Out Of Chaos
Waste reduction and diversion, of course, is more than just recycling. Moyer took the group through the Conserve project, talking about services and information available through conserve.restaurant.org. He addressed the reduction side of the equation, considering packaging alternatives, use of recycled material, composting and other strategies and tactics.
As for recycling itself, Moyer made several points. Among them:
Recycling’s gained critical mass. According to an NRA survey, as of last year 65% of restaurant operators had recycling programs. Of those, three quarters had a back-of-house program, and 43% said they had a front-of-house program, and most of that group said their staffs did the sorting.
Step By Step
- Moyer cited an NRA checklist for getting focused on recycling. Step one, he said, was to audit your waste. You can’t plot your course if you don’t know where you are and where you’re going. So first, identify your typical daily waste. Figure out, by volume or weight, how much is recyclable paper and cardboard, how much is recyclable plastic, how much is food waste, etc. Then you’ll know what you’re working with.
- Hand in hand with identifying the waste, name a specific individual to oversee the program, monitor results and report periodically. You need a czar, somebody accountable who grasps the overview as well as the particulars and can measure results.
- Identify recycler/s. Not all materials can be recycled in all areas. Check with your waste hauler and find out what kinds of materials are recyclable in your area, who’s handling what, and sort the waste accordingly for the most sensible handling.
- Set up bins/containers for recyclables. How many different sorts of recyclable materials do you have? Clearly mark—and maybe color-code—containers for materials like glass, plastics and metals. NRA suggests a container for paper/cardboard, another for organics, and another for true waste garbage.
- Consider separate or single streams. Who sorts, you or the hauler or the recycling facility? If the hauler or the recycler does the sorting, that takes labor and containers out of your operation, but check the fee impact. On the other hand, if you can separate-stream waste and minimize handling on the other end, you may actually be able to turn a recyclable stream into a revenue stream.
- The item above leads to another possibility. If you can recycle a decent volume of, say, uncontaminated aluminum, or glass, or paper, you might be able to team up with other local businesses, consolidate that waste, and share in the payback for high-quality, easily handled material.
- Establish a culture of recycling. Train your staffs. Get everyone into the habit, and after that, recycling gets easy. If your customers handle recyclables, get them involved too. The survey said 85% of consumers are willing to sort quickservice recyclables. Just get the bins, mark them clearly, and put them where they’re most visible and easiest to use. A lot of consumers are sorting their household waste. They’re used to sorting.
- Find out whether your particular location has a cooperative group promoting and practicing recycling. Check with local governernment sources that might know of such business coalitions. Learn from your business neighbors. You’re not alone, and you’re not inventing this thing by yourself.
- Promote your efforts, both internally and externally. Create some pride among your staffs, and show your customers you’re doing a good thing. Also note the Conserve Education and Recognition Program (see the web address above) offers many suggestions for how to can promote your efforts to the public.
Resources To Check
The NRA has already done a lot of legwork for you on this topic. As you get yourself oriented, check out conserve.restaurant.org. You can pick up a ton of information there and at linked pages, and you can set yourself up with a trackable program that helps you keep tabs on your progress.
Also check out restaurantsrecycle.com for tons of links, guidance and specific topics that will help you get your recycling to the next level.
Recycling is like a lot of things in life—the more you do, the more you know, and the better it gets.