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National Restaurant Association - Atlanta operators help SC peers aim for zero waste

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Atlanta operators help SC peers aim for zero waste

Members of the South Carolina Hospitality Association recently visited Atlanta to learn how restaurateurs there are cutting their landfill contributions - in some instances up to 85 percent - through composting and recycling.

Accompanied by officials of the National Restaurant Association and Zero Waste Zones, an NRA partner, the group examined the systems and infrastructure they'd need to reduce restaurant waste in their home state.

For Scott Fister, sustainability coordinator for Kiawah Island Golf Resort near Charleston, that meant taking a granular view during the tour of participants in the Zero Waste initiative, like Ecco, the upscale restaurant owned and operated by Atlanta's Fifth Group Restaurants. That sizeable restaurant composts and recycles all but half a roller bin of garbage per week.

He explained, "I was looking at it from the ground level: What do your bins look like? What kind of wheels do they have? Have you had any problems with employee resistance?"

The big ah-ha moment for him: employees had readily adopted whatever procedures were needed to strive for zero waste. "They all shrugged and said, 'It's just how we do it now,'" he recounted.

Tom Sponseller, the SCHA's president and chief executive, took more of a macro view, scrutinizing the infrastructure elements and business dynamics that are turning Atlanta into a waste-reduction model for restaurants everywhere.

"We went to Atlanta to see how it could be done and whether it could be brought back here [to South Carolina]," he said.

Currently there are two collectors and just one facility in Atlanta that accept organic waste for composting, according to Holly Elmore, founder and chief executive of the Zero Waste Zones program there. Nevertheless, a large number of food scraps is diverted there so commercial haulers have less trash to pick up and transport to the landfill.

Like Atlanta, South Carolina also has only one facility that accepts food waste for composting. A pilot operation in Charleston County is limited to accepting 100 tons per week.

Sponseller noted there is a strong financial incentive for restaurants and hotels to shoot for zero waste.

"The first place we visited was the Hyatt Regency, a 1,300-room hotel in downtown Atlanta that's cut its garbage bill by $169,000," he said.

The SCHA's chief said he plans to lead a return visit to Atlanta in November to focus expressly on waste-reduction infrastructure.

"It has to be economically feasible; we're trying to figure that out," he said. "Hopefully by the first of the year we'll have something going."

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