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Learn to use landfill bans to your advantage

January 28, 2016

As a restaurateur in San Francisco, I started composting and diverting waste from our restaurant, Scoma’s, when the city issued composting and food waste mandates about 15 years ago. My boss, restaurant president Tom Creedon  along with our entire team were instrumental in successfully implementing Scoma’s waste diversion program.

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Tom Creedon driving Scoma's biodiesel-powered truck fueled with oil from the restaurant.

(Image couresy of Scoma's Restaurant, Inc.)

Today I am happy to report this action not only made us more environmentally efficient, but also ended up saving the restaurant thousands of dollars a year in hauling fees.

Scoma’s, a $15 million a year seafood restaurant, now diverts nearly 90 percent of its waste away from landfills; but when we started, we didn’t know we’d be as successful with our program as we’ve been. Fortunately, our hauler really helped us get proper training and equipment to handle the separation of waste. The hauler also invested in a composting facility about 60 miles from San Francisco that converts organic food waste into compost farmers and growers can use. I like to say: “From the sea to the land” we help close the loop.

Restaurateurs throughout California are bracing themselves for the food waste/composting regulations that took effect Jan. 1. I want to tell them I understand that the unknown is a challenge, but I also recommend they look for opportunities especially with their haulers. When we started back in 2001, we were lucky; our hauler took the lead on measurement, provided us with color-coded, proper-sized storage bins and signage to help us train staff. Our team responded immediately, and was proud to share in the recognition we received. We also were able to reward them for their efforts.

While it’s true that only large businesses generating 8 cubic yards of organic waste must comply with the rules right now, it’s important for everyone to know what they’ll need to do to divert their waste when their turn to comply comes around. The more information gathered now will help with implementation and compliance when it happens. 

I can say that if Scoma’s threw everything into the landfill, our garbage bill would be at least twice what it is right now. By reducing our number of trash pickups per week, we’ve saved thousands each month!Boats-edit_300x199.jpg

Because this is a state mandate, different jurisdictions and multiple haulers will be involved, making the transition trickier than what we faced all those years ago in San Francisco. Our best advice is to gather information, evaluate your options, establish relationships with local government and haulers, and train your team. Involving them in your plan and rewarding their efforts will help you reach your goals. You’ll be amazed with the results; I know I was!

Mariann Costello is vice president of Scoma’s restaurant and former chair of both the California Restaurant Association and San Francisco Travel Association. She is a leader on sustainability issues for her local and state restaurant industries.