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National Restaurant Association - S.C. explores zero-waste program

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S.C. explores zero-waste program


Following a second trip to Atlanta to learn more about that city's zero waste zones program, the South Carolina Hospitality Association says it is committed to pursuing a similar sustainable model for restaurant and hotel businesses in Columbia, S.C., the state's capital.

 "The biggest takeaway [for me] is it's a lot easier to do than it sounds," said Douglas O'Flaherty, the SCHA's director of operations," one of several participants on the Atlanta trip. "This second tour solidified that it really is easy to do. That was proven time and again."

 The trip, organized by Holly Elmore, founder and CEO of Elemental Impact, a nonprofit that focuses on sustainable waste diversion; Chris Moyer, subject matter expert for the National Restaurant Association's Conserve Sustainability Education Program; and O'Flaherty, featured a series of tours and roundtable discussions with zero-waste experts from the Sheraton hotel in downtown Atlanta, the Georgia World Congress Center, local restaurateurs and officials from the Environmental Protection Agency. It also included a tour of Greenco, a composting facility in Barnesville, Ga., that specializes in the collection of organic materials such as food from commercial foodservice operations.

During the tour of his facility, Tim Lesko, Greenco's co-founder and president, told the South Carolina contingency that his biggest challenge is the poor training foodservice employees receive regarding zero waste practices. He noted that even though hotels and restaurants are some of the highest producers of organic material, many foodservice workers don't know the correct procedures for separating and recycling product. As a result, there oftentimes is the potential for contamination of sources, a huge problem for the composting facility.

 After visiting the Greenco site, O'Flaherty said, "The composting facility was most impressive. The [concept] is so simple it's stupid it's not being done [in other areas]. Though there is a science to the mixture and the composting, it's really about putting the right thing in the right places. The earth takes care of the rest. The amazing thing was seeing the product come in raw, mixed and then witnessing the final product."

 O'Flaherty added that he and the other members of the tour plan to reconvene in January to discuss next steps in adopting a zero-waste initiative in Columbia. He noted the biggest hurdle is that the city currently doesn't have a composting facility that accepts organic materials though there is an ongoing discussion about developing one.

In the meantime, he said the SCHA applied for and received a $100,000 grant from the EPA that would help purchase recycling bins, establish a glass recycling program that includes free hauling for operators, and produce a training program for hospitality employees.

Pictured top, right: Members of the South Carolina Hospitality Association and sustainability experts from Columbia, S.C., listen as Tim Lesko of Atlanta's Greenco composting facility, center, explains zero-waste procedures.

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