Archive for December, 2009

Almost everything can be recycled. It is just a matter of whether there is a market for that recycled material, and if someone is collecting it. Outside of curbside recycling of glass, cardboard, metal and plastic, there are a number of things that can be recycled or reused in some way.

1. Plastic film
Clean plastic wrap from linens, sleeves of disposable items and other dry goods can be recycled. Large, bailed volumes of it can be sold.

2. Wine Corks
ReCork America is an organization that recycles wine corks into useful material like flooring, insulation and countertops. Also, local school or material exchange organizations may take your corks for art projects.

3. Styrofoam
Styrofoam isn’t the easiest thing to recycle, but it can be done. Some places may charge a small fee for rigid foam like what electronics are packed in while many shipping stores will gladly take your Styrofoam peanuts.

4. Electronics
Electronics recycling is a huge global issue. Virtually all electronics contain toxic material; some in large amounts like CRT TVs and monitors, which contain between 5 and 15 pounds of lead. Depending on the item, you may pay a small fee to recycle them, but it is well worth the cost to keep pounds of lead and other toxic chemicals out of your local landfill. Did you know liquid from landfills winds up in waste water systems that are not made to filter toxic chemicals?

In addition to things that use electricity, electronic media like CDs, videotapes, CD cases and floppy disks are all recyclable. Check for an electronic recycler near you.

Only recycle electronics with reputable recyclers as some companies ship them to China and Africa where the electronics are improperly disposed of (burned), often by children. Learn more about the problems with global electronics recycling from the Basel Action Network.

5. Fluorescent lights
Fluorescent lights contain tiny amounts of mercury so they are usually illegal to throw in the trash – particularly by businesses. Many lighting stores, some hardware stores and some solid waste management departments collect linear tubes and CFLs for safe disposal. There is usually a small fee of about $.10 per ft of bulb.

6. Chemicals/Hazardous Waste
Old cleaning chemicals should not be dumped down the drain or in the garbage. Call your county waste management department to find local option for proper disposal.

7. Construction Waste
I speak from personal experience when I say recycling construction waste is easier than one may expect. Construction workers are usually very bad about recycling anything, but if you give them the ability to (and tell them to) they will recycle. Wood, wire, cement, conduit, nails, and basically anything metal are all recyclable. Old or unused tile, drywall, scrap wood, lighting and plumbing fixtures, doors, windows, etc. can all be sold, given away on Craigslist or a local Freecycle group, or donated to reuse centers.

8. Candle Wax
A restaurant I’ve worked with uses candles on the tables. One of the daily jobs is to warm the remaining wax from spent candles under the heat lamp then pour out the wax and put in a new one. One of the servers who liked to make candles started pouring the wax into take-out containers to make recycled candles. The management quickly realized how much wax was going to waste. We calculated they had thrown away an entire dumpster of wax in the ten years they had been open. They now donate the wax to a non-profit that teaches art classes.

9. Bottle Caps
Like wine corks and old candle wax, bottle caps are sometimes used in schools for art projects. Metal recyclers will also take them in larger quantities (at least a bucket). It doesn’t really take that long to collect a bucket’s worth.

10. Old wares, broken wares (70% metal)
Old broken tongs, ladles or anything at least 70% can be recycled, often in the standard curbside recycling – ask your waste hauler.

11. Wood
Wood crates, pallets or scrap from construction can often be recycled at yard debris composters. Pallet companies will often pick up your unwanted pallets for free.

12. Wax Cardboard
While wax cardboard cannot be recycled, it can be composted. All commercial composting facilities will take waxed cardboard. Remove any tape first.

13.  Printer Cartridges
All remanufactured toner cartridges stores take back printer cartridges regardless of whether they refill them or not. They will also take POS printer ribbons for recycling, but most do not remanufacture them. Also, many office stores have started taking back printer cartridges.


Sustainability is in, finally. The 2010 “What’s Hot” forecast is out from the National Restaurant Association and sustainability dominated the top trends.

I don’t really like the word “trend” for sustainability because I think resource conscious operations is a sensible, long-term business practice, and not a trend. However, the forecast is for “What’s Hot,” and some of the things on the list will go the way of the Dodo.

Sustainability in general ranked in at number three with local produce, locally sourced meats and locally produced beer and wine in the top five, sustainable seafood in the top ten and organic produce and artisan spirits in the top twenty. Many of the remaining top vote getters had a sustainable twist to them like farm-branded ingredients, “simplicity/back to basics” and non-traditional fish, which I equate to sustainable seafood. The overall theme for the top trends is obviously in line with consumer trends of healthier, more environmentally conscious eating habits. Of course what we say and what we do are two different things as the US is still the fattest country in the world and getting fatter every day…

Regardless, having been pushing for sustainability in the restaurant industry for several years, it is nice to see sustainability taking hold. Even though some of the same trends like organic and local produce made it on the 2009 list, it seems restaurants chefs and owners have realized the benefits of sustainable practices. We need to make sure that sustainability remains standard practice rather than a trend since restaurants are the most energy intensive commercial businesses in the US, and tend to produce a lot more waste than the average business. I’ve seen the trend coming and hope 2010 is a banner year for green restaurants. Maybe next year sustainable foodservice consultants will make the top twenty…

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.