When you go to your favorite restaurant, you might not realize how many carrot tops, onion peels and potato scrapings end up in the garbage. In the past, most of that has gone into landfills, but one community is trying to change that by running a pilot restaurant composting program. It hopes to serve as a model for other communities throughout the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty reports:
When you go to your favorite restaurant, you might not realize how many carrot tops, onion peels
and potato scrapings end up in the garbage. In the past, most of that has gone into landfillS, but one
community is trying to change that by running a pilot restaurant composting program. It hopes to
serve as a model for other communities throughout the region. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Nora Flaherty reports:
Rene Graff tries to run her restaurant in the most environmentally sound way she can. But there
was one thing – she couldn’t do anything with all the peels, rinds and other vegetable waste that her
cooks generated. Her staff suggested composting, but it wasn’t practical to set up a compost pile in
back where it might attract pests. And it wasn’t practical for someone in the restaurant to take the
“The city didn’t have a compost program where they could pick it up, and as a business, you really
couldn’t have somebody driving the waste out to the compost center, so that was a really big
obstacle for us, was having pick-up.”
Graff started talking to people in her town, Ann Arbor, Michigan. They talked about ways to work
it out so that her restaurant, and others, could compost their food preparation waste. Then they all
found out that the Solid Waste Department had been thinking about the same thing. They all
worked together, and in the end, they put together a program where for 2 months, three local
restaurants separated all of their waste from prepping vegetables, along with coffee grounds and
filters, for the city’s yard waste trucks to pick up.
(kitchen sound – chopping)
They found it was easier than they thought it would be. Emily Adkison manages the kitchen at
Graff’s restaurant, The Arbor Brewing Company. She helped create the system that they used for
food prep composting.
“We would have several bins, one at every station, one at the prep area, one up back on the line,
one right over there by the dish area so the servers can put their used napkins in and coffee
grounds. It’s just as easy as having, instead of a garbage can, you have a 5-gallon pickle bucket
and you throw your scraps in there instead of in the garbage.”
The stuff that the workers throw in the buckets gets picked up by the city’s yard waste composting
trucks. Then, it’s taken to Ann Arbor’s Materials Reclamation Facility, or MRF.
The MRF is a huge, windswept area, with a big population of crows and big, long piles of partially-
decomposed leaves everywhere, emitting a lot of steam and a very earthy smell. Nancy Stone is
educational director for the Solid Waste Department. It’s her job to show people what happens to
their yard and now, food waste, once they’ve sent it here. The whole process takes about a year.
The end result is a high-quality compost, that the city sells to local farmers and gardeners.
“It’s rather crumbly in nature. It has a very sweet smell to it and it looks to me like beautifully
ground espresso grounds. It’s just, I like to garden myself. This is the best stuff to garden with.
This stuff is the best stuff to think of putting on that garden.”
The Ann Arbor restaurant compost pilot program ran for 2 months, and in that time, the city
collected 9 tons of stuff that would have been thrown away otherwise. For Graff, whose restaurant
alone generated one ton of food waste, this is a big argument for future programs, and against
people who say that this kind of program is too small to work:
“When I’m dealing with nay-sayers, the biggest thing they say, ‘if it’s such a small amount that
you’re talking about, is it worth the time, is it worth the effort?’ and I think what people should
know is that every little bit counts, as in I think we were shocked to discover that we diverted a ton
of waste in 2 months, and I would say yes, even the smallest little gesture can have a big impact,
especially if everybody’s doing it.”
And more restaurants will be doing it in the spring — the program is starting up again in May, this
time with 3 more partners. And the people involved in the Ann Arbor program hope that if it works
in this community, it will help lead to a change in the way that other communities, all over the
region, deal with food waste.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Nora Flaherty.