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National Restaurant Association - Project aims to cut food court waste

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Project aims to cut food court waste

The National Restaurant Association is playing a key role in a new initiative to cut food courts' contributions to landfills.

The Sustainable Food Court Initiative is close to launching four pilot programs to research how the waste output of shopping mall and airport food courts can be reduced, explains Chris Moyer, project manager of the NRA’s Conserve sustainability program.

The NRA and its partners in the endeavors will attempt to deflect waste from landfills by identifying best practices for recycling and reducing packaging, particularly shipping materials used for menu ingredients.

“Usually when you talk about restaurants, you divide the operations into front of the house and back of the house,” says Moyer, a former operator. “With food courts, we’re breaking things down into pre-point of sale, point of sale and post-point of sale.”

The NRA will focus largely on the point of sale, says Moyer. “At the point of sale, you’re dealing with the customer, so you can educate them about the importance of recycling,” he says.

Food courts pose unique waste-reduction challenges because customers walk away with the components of their meal. They might eat in a common area, or as far away from the operation as their cars or homes.

“You can’t control the area the way you would in a restaurant dining room,” says Moyer. “It’s really interesting because it’s all about getting the customers involved.”

Means of education might include remote kiosks to explain the importance of putting the right trash in the right receptacle to facilitate recycling, Moyer explains.

The NRA is working on that effort with several partners in the Initiative, including the founder, Elemental Impact, and the Foodservice Packaging Institute.

Other participants in the program include Solo Cup, Sealed Air Corp., Asean/StalkMarket, MeadWestvaco, Waste Management, NatureWorks, Clean River and Tomra.

Moyer says the Initiative is working with host sites like Simon Properties, one of the nation’s largest shopping mall operators.

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