Keeping the Pulse: Monitoring Your Restaurant’s Recycling Program

By Andrew Call

The talk has been consistent regarding going green and the inherent benefits doing so can have on your restaurant. Customers have come to expect green practices in almost every aspect of their lives, and the food service industry is often held in the spotlight. Luckily, focus is geared towards sustaining an environmentally conscious business model now more than ever, and the ways in which you can green your establishment are numerous. Ranging from replacing high-output equipment to simply implementing and maintaining a solid recycling program, the methods are out there waiting for you to put them to work.

You say you’ve already got a recycling program in play? Fantastic, you’re on the right track. Recycling is among the most visible ways you can communicate to customers that you and your staff are committed to cleaning up how you operate. Don’t feel ashamed to whole-heartedly promote the fact that you’re recycling. People love it, it’s great for the environment, and believe it or not, it feels really good!

But it’s smart, and can be crucial, to periodically question if your recycling program is working as you had intended it to. Unfortunately, when you take the finger off the pulse in regards to green efforts it’s not uncommon to miss a beat or lose the rhythm completely. Take a recent lapse in recycling by a restaurant equipment and supply company in Boulder, Colorado, for example:

Like any environmentally conscious company, this one had taken the steps to help its employees recycle on a regular basis. Labeled blue recycling receptacles were tucked beneath each desk and, up until recently, a dumpster for recyclables lined the outside wall of the warehouse. Pretty standard stuff for an office recycling program.

The problem occurred when the company switched who they used for sanitation pick-up. In the process, the dumpster for recyclables was removed from the premises, being returned to the old sanitation company. The new group did not replace the dumpster. This left the company with only one dumpster to throw all their disposables into, including those that were recyclable. Unfortunately, everything thrown into the dumpster eventually found its way to the landfill.

To compound the problem, the company’s cleaning crew made their rounds through the building in the evening, when no office workers were present. This led to a lack of communication that the dumpster for recyclables had been removed. Those working in the office were none the wiser, assuming the recycling program was as active as ever.

It wasn’t until recently that the company’s pricing analyst, and newly appointed Sustainable Operations Coordinator, Jordan Scampoli took the microscope to their sustainable efforts that the mix-up in communication was discovered.

“We got a little complacent about the recycling program and we just assumed things were working as they always had,” Scampoli says. “Now we know better and it won’t happen again.”

Since returning their fingers to the pulse, and understanding that constant commitment and regulation is required to operate a successful sustainability program, the company has made plans to acquire a new dumpster, implement and use compost receptacles, and hold employee-wide training. Renewing the company’s commitment to being a positive influence, and a sustainably productive member of the Boulder community, is forefront in the minds of the company’s new culture committee and its members, like Scampoli.

“Failing to sort recyclables and compostable items appropriately can ruin an entire recycling program. It’s so important to sort properly and know what is recyclable and what is not,” he explains. “The question shouldn’t be ‘why recycle’ it should be ‘why not.’  If you take the politics out of it, and just look at recycling as a way of reducing waste, most people can get on board with that.  The infrastructure needs to exist, and that does pose a challenge, but even a little work can go a long way.”

Make no mistake, putting out recycling bins in your restaurant or office feels good and spreads a positive message, but it takes more than placing a few bins to run an effective recycling program. Follow through, train your staff, and constantly monitor yourself and others to make sure guidelines are being adhered to. If you’re the head honcho, set the standard and provide an example for others to follow. You’ll be surprised how easy it is once everyone’s on the same page.


Andrew Call provides blog insights regarding restaurant management and marketing at The Back Burner, which is written by the employees of Tundra Specialties, a company specializing in restaurant supply, parts, and a wide variety of food service equipment and sundries.

image: artizone via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)


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