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National Restaurant Association - Sustainable initiative aims to green food courts

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Sustainable initiative aims to green food courts

Two food courts operated by contract foodservice company HMSHost are serving as pilot sites for a new National Restaurant Association initiative that identifies and shares sustainability practices for multitenant feeding areas of airports, travel centers and shopping malls.

The Sustainable Food Court Initiative is a joint venture of the NRA and Zero Waste Zones, an Atlanta-based program that strives to eliminate foodservice facilities' landfill contributions. Other partners in the Initiative include Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, one of the nation's largest shopping center operators, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where one of the HMS pilot facilities is located. The other is in the Concord Mills shopping mall in Concord, N.C.

The initiative addresses some of the sustainability challenges that are peculiar to food courts. For instance, according to Chris Moyer, project director of the NRA's Conserve program, the complexes typically have multiple food and beverage outlets that share a dining area serviced by a third party. Those operators may not be directly involved in such functions as putting out and emptying trash receptacles, he says.

He adds that the proportion of customers who carry cups and other disposables out of the food court to other areas of the host facility also is high, so potential recyclables can be difficult to collect.

Though still in the early stages of the pilot, HMS Host already has identified several ways to deflect trash from the waste stream, says Linda Dunn, the concessionaire's vice president of supply chain and analysis. She notes, for example, that Zero Waste Zones director Holly Elmore saw that many of the bulk food shipments coming through the food courts' backdoor were shrink-wrapped. Furthermore, many of the restaurants also used bread that came in plastic bags.

"[Holly] said to us, 'You know all of that shrink-wrap and all of the bags can be recycled,'" Dunn recalls. "Now we're putting that [process] into our other locations."

Dunn also notes that full-service restaurants at the pilot sites have just started collecting back-of-the-house organic waste for composting.

Meanwhile, Dunn adds, HMS is benchmarking all of its waste-reduction efforts to see how much the needle can be moved. One example of that is the conversion of used fryer oil into bio fuel instead of just discarding it. She also notes that down the road, customers may be elicited to help in the recycling of cups.

"The whole process is about learning - identifying the best practices and bringing more participants aboard in our effort to reduce waste," Dunn says. "We want to share those learnings."

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