Restaurants go green
William Echeveria composts the scraps of the produce he is prepping at Carneros Bistro.
On average, 90 percent of what ends up in the garbage can at a restaurant is food waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and most of it ultimately ends up in landfills producing methane gas. A pilot program launched by Sonoma Compost, Sonoma Garbage Collector and around 20 Sonoma Valley restaurants, aims to keep as much compostable material out of landfills as possible, and the impact can already be weighed in garbage cans.
"We are down two big cans of garbage every week," said Roland Scheller, executive chef at Carneros Bistro at the Lodge at Sonoma. "We save it all from the landfill."
The idea is simple: equip restaurants with the knowledge and supplies needed to separate out food waste that can be composted - which is basically everything except meat, dairy or fats.
"You can even compost paper napkins," said Ben Angulo-Caruso, who is coordinating the project for Sonoma Compost.
The idea originated with the Petaluma-based composting company, which sought a community with its own garbage collection service to launch the commercial food composting project. Unlike much of the county, which primarily uses Empire Waste Management, the City of Sonoma has the local Sonoma Garbage Collector, making it an ideal place to test the program.
"(Sonoma Garbage Collector) were the key people in getting this done," Angulo-Caruso said, explaining that John Curotto's company took the initiative by getting the support of the Sonoma City Council and working with each restaurant to ensure they had the bins they wanted to make composting as easy as possible. Restaurants such as the Red Grape, Maya, HopMonk Tavern, Rinn's Thai, Swiss Hotel and the retirement communities of Merrill Gardens and Sonoma Hills signed on to test the Commercial Food Waste Composting Service.
"I would like to thank John Curotto, who has always been an innovator in the waste industry," said Sonoma Mayor Laurie Gallian in a press release about the program. "With Sonoma's recent international designation as a Cittaslow (Slow City) City, in part due to our progressive environmental policies, this program supports the environmental issues we are seeking to address at a community level. We are also delighted at the cooperation and support of our local restaurants and establishments," Gallian added.
Sonoma Garbage Collector picks up all the compostable material along with the yard waste and hauls it to Sonoma Compost, where the food waste is broken down into nutrient-rich soil.
"The end result is our finished product, which is sold to a whole slew of local farmers... This program means we are able to donate more. We give a lot of soil to school garden projects," Angulo-Caruso said, although he could not confirm whether the Sonoma School Garden Project had received donated soil.
Scheller said, on the restaurant side, the program was simple to implement. Each chef's station was equipped with a bucket where all the scraps created while prepping food can be collected. Several times a shift, the chefs dump their buckets into the compost can, which is already decreasing the amount of trash the restaurant produces.
"It's very good for us because we're saving money on garbage," Scheller said.
Angulo-Caruso said some of the participating restaurants are going one step further by composting table scraps left on customers' plates. This does require busers to sort out any meat, dairy and grease, but it keeps additional waste out of landfills.
Food waste is one of the larger producers of methane in landfills, which is released when the organic material breaks down. That greenhouse gas is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The EPA estimates that if the 26.5 million tons of food waste that ends up in landfills every year was instead composted, it would be the environmental equivalent of removing more than 4 million cars from the roadways each year, conserving more than 2 billion gallons of gasoline or providing annual electricity needs to more than 2.5 million homes.
While Sonoma will be the test hub for the program, ultimately Sonoma Compost hopes this project could involve restaurants and commercial food producers all across the county.
"We're hoping to show that this program does work and we should spread it around," Angulo-Caruso said. "This is something we need to be doing, it's the green thing to do right now."