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“Zero Waste” Restaurant Goes Much Further than Recycle

Two Years of Trash that Couldn't "Reduced, Recycled, Reused, Refused, or Rejected"
Two Years of Trash that Couldn’t “Reduced, Recycled, Reused, Refused, or Rejected”

We’ve heard the waste reduction mantra, “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse,” which has helped reduce the amount of waste heading to landfills, but what if we took it a couple of steps further?

Justin Vraney, owner of Sandwich Me In, in Chicago, has gone so far beyond “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse” that his quick-service eatery has produced just eight gallons of waste that will probably head to a landfill. By carefully planning menu items so they cross over, for example, most food waste is recycled within the restaurant. For example, today’s leftover vegetables might go into tomorrow’s burger. The leftover chicken bones from today’s chicken salad sandwich will go into tomorrow’s chicken broth. Any food scraps left over after this go to feed the chickens that produce eggs for the restaurant.

Starting with recycling, Vraney’s restaurant recycles 100% of its paper, plastics, metals, and glass, but Vraney goes even further by adding a couple more “R”s to the typical “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse” mantra. Adding “Reject, Refuse” to his list has freed him of having to find uses for and ways to recycle certain materials. For example, since he makes his own chicken broth, he doesn’t buy pre-made chicken broth, which means there’s no container to get rid of. Refusing junk mail and excessive packaging, such as only buying unprocessed and unpackaged foods, eliminates another line of waste entering the restaurant.

Actually, practically the only waste stream that has escaped Vraney’s watchful eye are his customers, some of whom bring in their Starbucks coffee in cups that can’t be recycled, and he’s not going to “Refuse” or “Reject” them. What’s the problem with Starbucks’ cups? True, they’re paper, but they’re also lined with plastic. They may seem recyclable, but paper and plastic can’t be recycled together. All in all, Vraney’s zero-waste restaurant has turned only a small profit, but it isn’t about money. It’s about proving a point, that careful management can go much farther than “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse,” and that practically any operation can reduce their impact on the environment.

About 99% of the time, I fill up my reusable travel mug, which I’ve had for about a decade, but Starbucks, what’s up with those cups?

Image © Sandwich Me In

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