Recycle, compost, reuse… how many times have we all realized that there are so many ways to step up to the plate in order to be more environmentally conscious? This time, look no further than fine dining; when you eat out, there are sustainability practices that some establishments just aren’t implementing. Restaurants, this statistic doesn’t sit well in sustainability-minded stomachs: The U.S. commercial sector generates 24.6 million tons of food scraps and soiled, unrecyclable paper and cardboard annually, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Further, according to the EPA, organic materials make up an average of 74% of the total waste stream. With the lack of composting, recycling or reusing resulting in almost three-quarters of reusable items going to waste, it is a good idea to look at what it would take to turn these habits around. Identifying widespread ideas for compost and recycling practices in restaurants is the first step.

Composting and recycling practices in restaurants: What’s the hold-up?

Show me the money, many restaurants seem to be saying, according to Marisa Mitchell, author of On-site Composting of Restaurant Organic Waste: Economic, Ecological, and Social Costs and Benefits. One of Mitchell’s studies showed three options, weighing the social and economic ramifications among other controls of the study. Which option won, a landfill or a sustainable alternative? Some could place the blame on a bad economy, but often, restaurants assume that it is cheaper to throw items away. From a money standpoint, this is true. But, Mitchell argues that the long-term cost of tossing everything in our landfills continues to build a devastating problem. Until recycling becomes a regular practice, the negative environmental consequences will continue to pile up.

Cleveland rocks: Sustainability takes a community by storm

Great Lakes Brewing Co. is actively trying to reduce landfill waste.
What do you get when you take determination and leftovers from corporate kitchens, restaurants and a pinch of leftover fan food at sports venues? Nine tons of waste, which the city of Cleveland managed to do. In a three-week pilot program in November 2009, eight downtown businesses made big changes, with the help of the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District and sustainability group Entrepreneurs for Sustainability. The city of Cleveland was so proud of its efforts that it documented it on a blog hosted on its site, Taking food composting to whole new level, large-scale downtown food-waste makers like The Q, Tower City and the Cleveland Browns, along with restaurants like the Great Lakes Brewing Co. and the Greenhouse Tavern, collected biodegradable food scraps out of the landfill. Using biodegradable bags (often made out of potato starch), they prepared scraps and leftovers for a composting company to haul them away to be turned into a high-quality soil additive. Companies that handle not only composting, but also recycling, are growing as well. One good example of the joining of forces is the Organics Recycling Association of Ohio. A nonprofit organization, they “promote the growth of the organics recycling industry in Ohio encouraging further study, research, advancement, development of composting and organic recycling through professionalism, education, training, information exchange and networking of the industry and its regulating agencies.” In other words, the options for both individuals and restaurants continue to climb in number. The only question that remains is: Will restaurants stomach the new social guidelines? That question continues to evolve just as green practices do.