Bails of Aluminum Cans

Bails of Aluminum Cans

Most anyone that reads this blog or has visited probably already recycles, or at least wishes they had the ability to recycle in their area. Recycling was one of the first “green” ideas to be readily accepted by the general population, and has become second nature to a good part of the population. However, most restaurants are recycling just the basic cardboard, metal, glass and maybe a little plastic picked up by their local hauler, while there are numerous other materials those restaurants can recycle. Additionally, many foodservice operations do not do a very good job of recycling. They throw away recyclables and put non-recyclables in the recycling containers. Restaurants wanted to increase the value of the material and amount of material they are recycling need to implement a comprehensive recycling program.

CRPs start with a waste audit to learn what recycling issues your business may have. With data from a waste audit the CRP can look at what the restaurant is currently recycling, and widen the recycling program to include more materials. A CRP also looks at how the restaurant is recycling. Are recyclables ending up in the garbage, and where in the facility is that happening? What will prevent this from happening, etc.? Implementing a CRP into training, job descriptions and overall mission sends the message of commitment to waste reduction throughout the company, and in the end cuts waste hauling cost.

Why Cleaner Recyclables?

Tainted recyclables pose a problem for the MRFs (Material Recovery Facility). These are the places where your recyclables are separated, bailed and sold on the recyclables market. The problem arises when non-recyclable materials (contaminants – food, dirty recyclables, non-recyclable items, etc.) wind up in the wanted (and valuable) recyclables. The MRFs do a good job of separating out the unwanted materials, but some of it does get into the final recyclables bail. This decreases the value of those recyclables because companies making products from recycled material want clean, useful material to work with. This was recently described to me in terms of cooking. If you are baking cookies, the recipe calls for flour, sugar, eggs, etc., but you would not want to use flour that had garlic powder spilled in it. The same goes for companies making recycled content products. If they are making recycled content #1 bottles they want to use #1 labeled plastics only. So following the recycling guidelines of your local recycler is essential in the grand picture of recycling.

This can sometimes be easier said than done as restaurant have high turnover, many non-English speaking workers, minimum wage workers that are often not very motivated to go the extra step and many people are not used to recycling. Therefore, training, signage in multiple languages and placement of containers for recycling programs needs to be thorough, intuitive and easy. Post pictures of what is and what is not recyclable near garbage and recycling areas. Train staff to know what goes where and make it easy for them to recycle. Often, the simplest solution to improving a recycling program is just making the bins more accessible. Recycling should be a part of every employee’s job descriptions so they are not expected to do it voluntarily, but rather as part of their daily work.

What Else is Recyclable?

As for recyclability of things, there are a lot materials used in restaurants that could find a home other than in the garbage. Electronics, fluorescent lights (these are usually illegal to throw away), wine corks, broken equipment and plastic wrap are just a few items that can be recycled. Plastic wrap is one of the easiest materials to collect and recycle. It is usually already clean since it comes from packages of disposables, linens and other dry goods (don’t recycle plastic wrap that has been used for food), it compacts easily and is light weight. It is also easy to recycle even in areas without major recycling systems since many grocery stores have started recycling plastic bags. Recycling sections of local dumps will often take clean plastic wrap, or there may be a company nearby that is collecting and bailing its own wrap to sell on the market.

There are a couple resources for finding recyclers in your area. First local waste management departments are usually the best option to find info on what and where you can recycle locally. It is a great place to start, as they may know a school that will take your wine corks or bottle caps for art projects, or what local hardware stores recycle CFL bulbs. is another great resource for finding local recyclers. Their website lists recyclers of various materials based on zip codes. Type in what you are trying to recycle and your zip code, and Earth911 will give you a list of recyclers of that item in your area.

In general, a comprehensive recycling program should be a part of any restaurant striving for a more sustainable business. It is a low or no-cost solution that can reap great rewards. Most of the work involved has to do with human behavior, which can be challenging, but changed with a sustained commitment to reducing waste.


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