By Eleanor Greene
As published in The West Roxbury Transcript
Thursday, April 21, 2011
“A Billion Acts of Green” is the theme for this year’s Earth Day, April 22. Recognizing the power of millions of individual actions, the campaign aims to inspire personal, organizational, and corporate pledges to act sustainably. But billions of acts begin with one small act—so, with that in mind, I’d like to share some recycling ideas that our small restaurant business, West on Centre, believes are small acts that lead to larger benefits.
Not only are restaurants the highest consumer of electricity in the retail sector, but our industry’s waste numbers are staggering—a single restaurant can generate up to 50,000 pounds of waste a year. Aiming to reduce ours at West, we took a hard look at areas where we could implement change effectively: recycle or reuse more and throw away less.
Recycling for our restaurant began with a simple request back in 2001 from the owner of a “French Fry” car: could he stop by every Friday to collect our used frying oil so that he could reuse it to run his car?
Since it was costing us roughly $75 a month to have a company collect our oil, we readily agreed to the arrangement. Soon, we were getting other requests for our used oil. Recognizing the potential profits involved in used cooking oil, it was not long before a larger company agreed to collect the oil at no cost.
“French Fry” cars acted as a catalyst for the restaurant business to take a look around and see what else could be recycled or reused. In our case, we hired the recycling company Save that Stuff to collect all our cardboard boxes, stainless steel and aluminum cans, plastic, and office paper products. We also looked to recycle our used printer cartridges and return plastic bags to the supermarket. We send empty beer bottles back to the distributor and recycle wine bottles. No more do we dispose of wine corks; they go to the ReCORK natural wine cork recycling program (except for those that have been turned into beautiful arts-and-crafts projects by our staff members!). We send the coat hangers that our chef’s jackets return from the cleaners on back to our linen company. In addition, we replaced our takeout containers and to-go bags with brown paper and biodegradable cardboard, eliminating the use of Styrofoam, which is not recyclable and clogs landfills for years and years. And these efforts are beneficial to our bottom line, not just the environment.
Our most enjoyable recycling project at West on Centre takes place in spring, when the patio garden starts to wake up and show signs of life. We save our coffee and tea grinds and work them into the soil in our herb and vegetable beds as well as into the tree pits that are in front of our restaurant. Tree-pit soil is usually deficient in nutrients because it’s surrounded by cement, so the coffee grinds and tea leaves add richness. Once in a while, we crush our brunch egg shells and work them into the soil as well. It is also worth noting that the bamboo fencing on our patio was not only an aesthetically appealing choice but, environmentally, a sound one for us.
Our goal at West is to one day become a certified green restaurant. The 2011 Earth Day theme of “A Billion Acts of Green” reminds us to at least make small acts every day and that doing so is an easy and simple way to make a difference.