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National Restaurant Association - Sustainable restaurants expand use of recyclable materials

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Sustainable restaurants expand use of recyclable materials

Starbucks unit.JPG

Restaurateurs mindful of sustainability are finding ways to expand the possibilities of what they can recycle at their establishments.

As a result, they are moving beyond glass, plastic and paper to other, more complex items ‑ materials that range from carpets to cargo containers and adding momentum to the movement as both recyclers and users of recovered materials.

For example, wine bottle corks are now being collected by chain and independent restaurants for conversion into such items as shoe soles. Houlihan's Restaurants is participating in a pilot program called ReCork at its specialty steak and seafood restaurants that could lead to cork recycling at its namesake 85-unit dinnerhouse chain.

Meanwhile, at other restaurants, furniture and interior features, from bars to baseboards, are being constructed from materials salvaged from tear-downs or renovations of old warehouses, barns, houses, churches and other restaurants.

Starbucks is a prime example of that type of dual effort. In mid-December, the coffee giant opened a cafe in Tukwila, Wash., made of cargo containers like the ones used to ship the chain's coffees and teas. Four of the containers, ranging from 20 feet to 40 feet in length, were fitted together like Lego blocks to form the store.

"We were able to open our minds to the use of very common elements destined for the landfill as structure for a high-quality, drive-thru coffee house design," said Tony Gale III, Starbucks' corporate architect and the project's overseer. He describes it as "an industrial beacon for sustainable thinking."

According to company spokesman Alan Hilowitz, The inspiration for the unit came from a shipyard that is visible from the windows of Starbucks' headquarters in south Seattle.

Starbucks describes the building as a one-of-a-kind, but the chain already is experimenting with other structures that incorporate the shipping containers. The boxlike cargo vessels typically are used for 20 years before being scrapped, so this provides the chain with a source of recycled building material.

At the same time, Starbucks also has been striving to use recovered materials inside its more conventional stores. A unit in Seattle, for instance, features a coffee bar made from oak, teak and walnut woods reclaimed from torn-down buildings in the area. The chairs in another Seattle store were used previously at the University of Washington.

Inside those and other stores, the chain is trying to recycle at least one routinely used item, such as plastic milk jugs. Many of the units also invite customers to reuse their old coffee grounds as fertilizer for their gardens.

But Starbucks isn't alone in those sorts of sustainable efforts. Kapow, a casual Florida concept co-launched by Pizza Fusion founder and green-restaurant pioneer Vaughan Lazar, is seeking to use only woods that have been salvaged from other structures, including barns.

And as their options expand, more restaurant operators are expected to follow suit. For example, the World Floor Covering Association said places can now install carpeting that's 100-percent recyclable, or buy wall-to-wall that's been 100-percent recycled from the fibers of discarded carpets.

Similarly, salvage businesses are springing up to reclaim building materials for re-use in restaurants, other businesses, and homes.

"It used to be two guys in a pick-up recovering barn scraps," Bob Falk, president of the Building Materials Reuse Association, said earlier this year. "Not anymore."

Pictured top, right: A Starbucks unit made of cargo containers in Tukwila, Wash. Photo: Tom Ackerman, Starbucks

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