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National Restaurant Association - NRA, Duke University team up for second zero waste study

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NRA, Duke University team up for second zero waste study

The biggest barrier restaurants in Durham, N.C., face in achieving “zero waste” is a lack of affordable composting and recycling options, a new study conducted at Duke University has found.

Zero waste encourages the reuse of all materials. For businesses, it is often defined as diverting 90 percent of a location’s waste stream away from landfills and into other uses. For example, a restaurant can take much of its packaging, food scraps, and cardboard —items that often go into the trash — and recycle or compost those materials.

The study, commissioned by the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Sustainability Education Program and conducted by a group of students from the Master’s program at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, determined that for restaurants in Durham to achieve zero-waste status, two things are required:

1. Public/private partnerships among local government, waste haulers and local restaurants to create a large composting/recycling customer base that would lower the costs of composting their organic waste.

2. Encourage entrepreneurship to attract private businesses to solve potential pickup/hauling problems, such as, infrastructure and cost-effective hauling routes, if the Durham city government is unable to handle it on its own.

Currently, the city of Durham does not have plans to implement a zero-waste effort. The study, the second of its kind in two years, was based on a hypothetical policy issue of the students’ design. Durham officials, however, have indicated that the city is looking to provide commercial recycling or composting services to restaurants in the future. According to the report, the city is interested in offering commercial composting, but does not have enough staff, expertise or infrastructure to provide the service. Right now, just 24 percent of its waste is diverted from landfill.

“We are pleased to have partnered with Duke University on this project, which has identified some barriers preventing Durham restaurants from reducing the amount of waste material sent to landfill,” said Laura Abshire, the NRA’s director of sustainability policy and government affairs. “The Association’s Conserve program looks forward to helping the city’s restaurateurs explore ways to divert waste and reduce their carbon footprint in the future.”

A number of cities, including Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, already have zero-waste programs in place.

To download the full report, please visit the Conserve website.

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