Archive for November, 2009

low-flow-aeratorIn one of my last posts on water conservation I mentioned significant savings several times, but never got a chance to calculate some of those potential savings. So, here are a few of the numbers…in somewhat unscientific fashion…

First, there is not a lot of data on water use in restaurants, and the data that is available is not very detailed and varies quite a bit. What is available shows use anywhere from 900 gallons per day to well over 7000 gallons per day so its hard to say what an average would be. In addition, most of the numbers that are available tend to just give rounded numbers for an entire restaurant’s use rather than broken down to individual uses like dishwashing, hand sinks, etc. So, I’ll try to make an estimation based on general use rather than being based on total use.

Lets take the aerator idea as an example. Say a restaurant has a number of faucets all with 2.2 gallon per minute aerators installed. Over the course of the day, all the sink uses (minus the dish sink and dishwasher) add up to two hours. So every time someone washed their hands, rinsed some vegetables, filled a glass of water, or a mop bucket the total running time of the faucets added up to two hours. This is a fairly conservative estimate based on the water use data, and also assumes the restaurant did not thaw frozen product under running water, which can add over two hours of use alone.

Total water usage and cost at this establishment would then be:

120 (minutes) * 2.2 gpm = 264 gallons / 1000 = .264 kgal * $7[1] = $1.85 per day

$1.85 * 360 days a year = $666.00 per year for faucet use.

.264 kg * 360 = 95.04 kgal per year

Now lets assume they installed 1.0 gpm aerators in all the faucets. As I mentioned in the previous post, this would reduce their water consumption by 55%. However, because a certain percentage of the water use is for drinking or recipes, or other uses where an absolute amount of water is required regardless of the aerator we cannot assume a straight 55% reduction in water consumption. Based on data from restaurant water consumption reports, lets assume 35%[2] of use is non-absolute amounts. Meaning handwashing, rinsing produce and any other water use that does not need a set amount like a glass of water would. I’ll use time as the divisible factor, and 2.2 gpm for the 57% of use that is for absolute needs rather than calculate it at 1.0 gpm, and multiply it by 2.2 to get what the actual use would be.

The water use and cost with 1.0 gpm aerators would then be:

78 (minutes) * 2.2 gpm = 171.6 gallons / 1000 = .172 kgal * $7 = $1.20 per day

42 (35% of total) * 1.0 gpm = 42 gallons / 1000 = .042 kgal * $7 = $.29 per day

(1.20 + .29) * 360 days = $536.40 / year

(.172 kgal + .042 kgal) * 360 = 77.04 kgal / year

$666.00 (cost with 2.2 gpm aerators) – $536.40 (cost with 1.0 aerators) = $129.60 savings per year

So, $130 a year may not seem like a “significant” savings, but considering the amount invested (roughly $2 per aerator) the payback is huge. That is about a one-month payback period if seven aerators were replaced with no maintenance or updating needed ever. Unlike other efficiency measures, faucet aerators are an install and forget it fix. There is no other measure that is as cost effective. Basically, regardless of how one calculates the savings, or the restaurant’s daily water use low-flow aerators are a simple, low cost solution that should be used in every establishment.


[2] American Water Works Association Research Foundation, Commercial and Institutional End Uses of Water, DeOreo, William et. al., 2000


Our post today is from a guest writer, Greg McGuire, from The Back Burner.

The dipper well is a small countertop sink that uses a constant flow of water to clean utensils like ice cream scoops and barista thermometers.  The sink fills up to a certain level and then drains away, so a dipper well acts like a constantly filling pool.  The in and out flow of water makes it convenient to clean utensils because any residue drains out automatically as the pool continues to fill.

The problem is that many coffee shops and ice cream parlors leave their dipper wells on regardless of how much business they’re doing.  That means water is constantly flowing, and it adds up very quickly.  As restaurants explore sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, partly out of personal conviction, partly out of the need to cut costs, and mainly because customers are demanding it, things like the dipper well have become more and more obsolete.

The sad fact is that we can hardly afford the convenient luxury of a dipper well any more.  A UNLV professor in Las Vegas conducted a study of water use as a direct result of dipper wells, and the results were pretty shocking, especially for a city located in the middle of a desert that is susceptible to drought: 2,453 dipper wells in 1,134 food service locations used 106.4 million gallons of water in a single year.  The professor says the numbers are pretty conservative and the real totals are probably much higher.Dipper Wells Waste Water

Starbucks has taken a lot of flack for their use of dipper wells as well, particularly in England, where anews article was recently published with similarly shocking numbers: 5.85 million gallons of water are used in the 10,000 global Starbucks locations every day.  Starbucks has pledged to remove dipper wells from their U.S. locations by the end of this year, and international shops will follow suit soon after.

Dipper wells became so ubiquitous because of food safety concerns.  A constant flow of water helps prevent bacterial buildup, and they are so easy to clean and use that even the greenest employee can be put to work while minimizing contamination problems.  Plenty of other methods address the food safety issue and are almost as easy to implement, however.

Besides the ethical issue of wasting a precious resource like potable water, dipper wells are also a drag on any business’ bottom line.  It’s a deceivingly large monthly expense that’s easy to miss since your water bill also includes dishwashing, food prep, beverages, ice, etc.  Depending on how many dipper wells you use, turning them off could add up to several hundred dollars a year once you account for water and wastewater charges.

An Efficient Undercounter DishwasherWhat are some alternatives to dipper wells? Starbucks has started using a one scoop, one pitcher policy in some stores, meaning the scoop and pitcher are used once before being washed.  A commercial undercounter dishwasher could easily replace a dipper well and significantly reduce water usage since many models use less than a gallon per rack.

Many other options exist; just make sure you consult with your local Board of Health to ensure you are minimizing contamination risks before shutting down your dipper well for good.  Replacing the dipper wells in your establishment will save you money, save you face, and earn you some green restaurant credibility with your customers.  And you just might be helping the environment along the way, a very marketable side effect to a smart business decision.

Greg McGuire blogs about the foodservice industry at The Back Burner, which is written by the employees of Tundra Specialties, a company specializing in restaurant equipment and food service supplies.


Usually when anyone starts talking about going green or general sustainability one of the first words out of their mouth is “energy.” Energy is a big thing, particularly right now. There is a huge push for green energy, we were recently smacked in the face with $4 gas prices that are sure to return, and things like solar panels are just cool. However, while energy efficiency might be sexy and a great marketing tool, water is a much more important long-term issue. We can have clean energy as long as the sun shines and the wind blows, but clean water is a finite resource and should be high priority for restaurants – if not for the environmental implications, the costs associated with water use. Fortunately, water conservation is one of the easiest green efforts.

I’ve been in a lot of different restaurants lately, and one of my main recommendations to all of them has been water conservation. Nearly every restaurant I’ve been in had a leak in at least one faucet somewhere in the facility. Some were fairly minor inconsistent drips while others were near constant flows that had to be wasting hundreds of gallons of water a day, which chalks up a significant cost very quickly. In addition to ignored leaks, not one foodservice operation had low-flow aerators on their faucets. Most had aerators that allow 2.0 to 2.2 gallons per minutes while a low-flow aerator will use anywhere from .5 to 1.5 gpm, which is considered a standard “low-flow” aerator. By replacing a single 2.2 gpm aerator with a 1.5 gpm, restaurants could save nearly 32% out of that faucet alone, 55% with a 1.0 gpm aerator and over 77% with a .5 gpm aerator.

To make matters worse, every restaurant I’ve audited lately also had at least one faucet without an aerator all together. Besides the fact that non-aerated faucets consume about 5 gpm, a faucet without any sort of screen poses a food contamination issue. Take an aerator or screen off a faucet sometime and see what they have caught: bits of plastic, rubber from gaskets, metal from the pipes, weird goo from God knows where, etc. All these things are possibility ending up in food because the majority of faucets without aerators tend to be in vegetable sinks. Why in vegetable sinks? Because kitchen workers want and need to fill buckets and sinks quickly. So rather than wait around a few minutes for a 1.5 gpm or even a 2.2 gpm faucet to fill their five gallon bucket, they take the aerator off and fill that bucket in less than a minute. It’s hard to blame them for doing this. Commercial kitchens are obviously fast paced environments, and every second counts. No one wants to wait around for a bucket of water to fill. The problem arises when that faucet is used for something other than filling a bucket, like thawing froze meat under a water stream. This is a bad practice to begin with, but even worse when the volume of water is four or five times what it could be.

How does one balance the kitchen’s needs with conservation? First, almost every faucet in the house should have a low-flow aerator installed on them, particularly hand sinks. Bathrooms and kitchen hand sinks are great places to spend a couple extra dollars and purchase aerators that use under 1.5 gpm. For sinks that have a single use like water filling stations I recommend only a screen on the faucet if and only if it is only being used for filling water carafes and not hand washing, rinsing rags, etc.

To prevent the kitchen staff from removing aerators in vegetable sinks I recommend providing them with a designated faucet for filling stock pots, buckets and the like. You may need to add an additional faucet to the vegetable sink, but the long term savings are well worth the effort. Make sure to use signage that reminds them which faucet is used for what.

Water conservation may be not a sexy marketing campaign option, but it is a simple, very cost effective sustainability measure every foodservice operation can implement. A few dollars in investment will have huge returns at the end of the year.


What is in Our Food?

Author: Paul

The Consumer Union has been in the news a couple times in the last couple of weeks. Just before Halloween the CU filed a petition with the FDA requesting that the governmental organization ban the practice of feeding chicken feces and basically anything else found on the floor of large chicken operations to beef cattle. This is a common practice in CAFOs, and of course affirmed as a safe practice by the beef industry. Interestingly enough, McDonalds the largest beef purchaser in the world is in support of the ban.

The CU also made recent headlines with a report that will be published in their December issue that tested for Bisphenol A in common food products. All 19 products tested showed BPA contamination at various levels. This is really not groundbreaking news as the many other studies have shown that BPA from food packaging leaches into food. The Environmental Working Group’s 2007 report on BPA showed baby formula had some of the highest levels tested.

With the release of the Consumers Union report, the industry in question is again stating that the results are flawed, and that their own testing and other reports show that BPA is harmless to humans. This, despite numerous other reports showing harmful effects of BPA, and support of the CU report from organizations such as the Breast Cancer Fund, Clean Water Action, Clean New York, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Oregon Toxics Alliance and other environmental health advocates.

Regardless of what studies one believes, the fact remains that there is some weird stuff in our food. Food packaging liners that are supposed to keep things out of our packaged food are leaching BPA into the food. Cows that are supposed to eat grass, are eating chicken poop and feathers. These are the facts, no one is debating them. Yet somehow the debate is on whether these things are harmful to humans and not on why they are in our food. A man made chemical is found in almost every packaged food on stores shelves (and restaurant kitchens). Beef is being created with chicken poop and the scrapings of the coop. This is just not a healthy, safe or sustainable option.

So, what are restaurants to do? Take the advice of sustainable food and agricultural advocate Wendell Berry:

•Participate in food production

•Prepare your own food

•Know the origins

•Deal direct

•Learn about industrial food production, agriculture, food   species

It basically comes down to the root of a sustainable foodservice operation; preparing fresh, local and sustainable food. Opening a can of product produced by an unknown company with ingredients from unknown producers places too much responsibility in the hands of others. Products made in-house from fresh ingredients sourced from producers known by name have an inherent pride and responsibility for quality and safety in them. Pride and a sense of responsibility create good food. Good food creates repeat customers…