The 2018 Resource Recycling Conference will take place in St. Louis in just over a month. To help readers gear up for the event, we’re introducing several of the recycling stakeholders who will share expert insights from the stage.
This week, we talk with Jenn DeRose, program manager for the Green Dining Alliance. Her organization certifies St. Louis restaurants in sustainable practices, including recycling-related activities.
DeRose will join a handful of local recycling stakeholders for a lightning-round session titled “Creating Success on Your Own Terms.” The panel has been organized by the Missouri Recycling Association (MORA).
How would you describe your organization?
The Green Dining Alliance (GDA) certifies restaurants in sustainable practices. That means connecting them with resources to reduce their carbon footprint, reduce waste, conserve water, source locally and more. GDA restaurants recycle, they phase in energy-efficient lighting, they never use Styrofoam and they set goals to improve over time.
GDA certification involves a site visit and a comprehensive audit, which results in a star rating on our website. Conference attendees can access a full list and map of over 100 GDA-certified restaurants to try during their stay in St. Louis.
What are some of the recycling and sustainability challenges specific to the restaurant sector?
Employee turnover makes good, consistent recycling habits a challenge for restaurants. We provide waste audits and information about recycling at our annual audits, but high employee turnover makes it difficult for those messages to stick through staffing transitions.
Another big issue is the necessity of ease for recycling and composting. If recycling, compost and trash bins are next to each other and clearly marked, it’s easy to avoid contamination. But spatial constraints make three-bin systems impractical or impossible in some locations, like behind a small bar or in a tiny kitchen. That makes contamination likely, especially during a dinner rush.
The last big challenge to restaurants is cost – the profit margin for restaurants is pretty low, so the rising cost of recycling will keep some businesses from signing recycling contracts. Luckily, most of the other strategies the GDA suggests for restaurants save them money through waste reduction and energy-efficient strategies, making up for losses that come from more expensive recycling services.
How does GDA tackle food waste?
It’s estimated that restaurants toss around 11 million tons of food every year, and due to the emissions associated with organic materials in the landfill, we see fighting food waste as a way to fight climate change. This year, our organization received an award from the U.S. EPA as a Food Recovery Challenge Participant – we follow the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy to make recommendations that are tailored to each specific restaurant’s food waste issues.
We encourage restaurants to reduce portion sizes, measure ingredients with tools like portion scoops, eliminate unnecessary sides and garnishes, perform waste audits, donate extra food and compost scraps to help them reduce the amount of organic material that hits the landfill. Food in the trash is money in the trash, so restaurants are typically receptive to ideas related to reducing organic waste.
What makes you most excited to be a part of the recycling industry right now?
I am excited to be part of the recycling industry during a time of collaboration and change. The GDA and Recycling On the Go, our sister program, are working on regional recycling messaging as part of the OneSTL Materials and Recycling working group – I believe this effort will help make recycling easier to understand for the public, which will hopefully make all of our jobs easier and more successful.
Changes are coming, and while disruptions can be scary, I think this is a good opportunity to remind the public that “reduce, reuse and recycle” are in that order for a reason and encourage them to consider purchasing reusable and recyclable packaging when they shop.
DeRose will speak during Concurrent Session C: Creating Success on Your Own Terms, which will be held from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. on Oct. 23 See the details on the full conference session schedule online.