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Going green is a huge buzzword these days, but the great thing about it is, going green can also save you money. Learn how here.

Green Restaurant Tips: Recycling Feels Good

Green Restaurant Tips: Recycling Feels GoodUnlike the tips previously offered in this series, recycling probably won’t save your restaurant or commercial kitchen money.  And recycling will probably add work to your schedule and headaches to your day.

So why recycle?  Well, there are a few very compelling reasons, and not all of them altruistic, for introducing a recycling program:

Customers love it.  You’ve been reading other Going Green Tips and have started implementing strategies that boost energy efficiency in your restaurant and allow you to advertise to customers that you’re a green restaurant.  Customer loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising are up.  Things are going great.

That will change fast if you don’t recycle.  To your customers, this is the most fundamental green practice, and if they don’t see a blue bin next to the trash bin, you’re going to lose a lot more credibility than you think.  On the other hand, if you not only offer recycling in the front of the house (where not much can be recycled anyway) but also advertise your back of house recycling program, that gives you a legitimacy that helps with your overall green restaurant marketing strategy.

A recycling program puts you ahead of the curve.  More and more state and local laws are requiring restaurants and commercial kitchens to implement a recycling program.  So why not stay ahead of the curve?  You’ll probably end up having a recycling program anyway, so why not get in the swing of things now and turn it into part of your marketing strategy?

Recycling also helps you get a Green Restaurant Certification from the Green Restaurant Association.  You may want to consider pursuing a full certification from the GRA as part of your commitment to building a sustainable green business.

Recycling does, in fact, feel good.  There’s not much money in it, but hopefully money isn’t the only thing you care about.  Recycling makes your customers feel good, and it should make you feel good too.  Reducing waste through recycling is a key element to achieving sustainability in our economy, and your participation makes a difference, no matter if you run a small mom-and-pop restaurant or a huge commercial kitchen.

More recycling tips:

Buy post-consumer products whenever possible.  Post-consumer means the item was made entirely or partly from recycled materials.  Buying these products creates more demand in the recycled materials market, which encourages more people and businesses to recycle.  You’ll also be conserving natural resources like timber by purchasing post-consumer products.

Employ reusable items whenever possible.  This applies mostly to the front of the house.  You can significantly reduce waste by introducing reusable napkins, dinner and small wares, glasses, and tablecloths.  The slightly raised cost of washing these items is usually offset by reduced waste removal costs, and as waste removal costs rise, as they are sure to do, your costs stay the same.

Recycle kitchen oil as well.  Recycling used frying and vegetable oil is now easier than ever since the advent of biodiesel and other oil recycling technologies.  Locate a local company that processes used oil and they will provide disposal bins and may even pay you to give them your used oil.

You can also make oil last longer by using an fryer oil filter, which pumps the oil out of your fryer, passes it through a filter to clean it of debris, and then deposits it back in the fryer.  This machine will pay for itself with the savings you realize on buying fryer oil.

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10 Tips For Commercial Water Conservation

10 Tips For Commercial Water ConservationRestaurants use a lot of water.  Between cooking, washing dishes, cleaning up, and serving guests, your water bill takes a good chunk out of your monthly budget on a consistent basis.  Commercial water conservation is also a big concern of a majority of your customers, especially if you operate in dry western states like California, Arizona, or Colorado.

This post is going to add to a common theme here on The Back Burner: finding ways to green your restaurant that not only give you serious street cred with your customers, but also add green to your bottom line.  The nice thing about commercial water conservation is that it takes minimal investment to realize some pretty serious savings.

Here’s 10 tips to help you save water in your restaurant:

  1. Serve filtered water on demand only. Don’t just assume your guests want water, and definitely don’t give them bottled water!  Not only is bottled water a needless expense, all that plastic is a landfill nightmare.  If you don’t serve water automatically, train your wait staff to let customers know they can have water free of charge at any time (after they get the drink order of course!).  And if you’re serving water, don’t just pull it from the tap.  Use a filtered glass filler to guarantee taste and water quality.
  2. Fix leaky faucets. That little dribble coming out of the faucets in your kitchen probably don’t seem like a big deal, especially since you’re probably working hellish hours as it is.  But looks can fool you.  That dribble can add up to thousands of gallons of water each month, and if it’s the hot side of the faucet that’s leaking, that’s hundreds of dollars in energy bills going down the drain as well.  Faucet parts are easy to replace and extremely inexpensive, and there’s really no excuse for letting those dollars leak down the drain.
  3. Low flow pre rinses. A low flow pre rinse can slash your water usage at one of its most wasteful points.  These pre rinses give you a heck of a lot more bang for your buck and still clean dishes effectively.
  4. Wash full racks only. This is a headsmacker tip.  The danger is in assuming your kitchen staff is following this rule religiously, because chances are they’re not.  Employ a constant education and enforcement program to make sure only full racks get put through your dishwasher.  Even conserving a small amount of water translates into big savings for you because that hot water is twice as expensive after you pay to heat it up.
  5. Retrofit kitchen and bathroom sinks. Aerators make both bathroom and kitchen faucets use less water and are easy to install.  In the kitchen, install a three compartment sink for washing dishes because the scrape, wash, rinse technique is much more efficient than doing it all in one compartment under a constantly running stream of water.  In the bathroom, install automatic faucets that shut off when not in use and retrofit old toilets and urinals with newer, more efficient ones.
  6. Train employees. In the end, all the best water-saving equipment in the world doesn’t do you a bit of good if your staff doesn’t take conservation seriously.  Make it an ongoing issue in staff meetings and during employee training.
  7. Use a foot pedal for handwashing sinks. Foot or knee pedals serve two purposes: they allow your staff to turn water on and off without contaminating their freshly washed hands, and they shut off automatically, which can save an astounding amount of water.
  8. Compost food waste. Instigating a compost program in your restaurant means staff must scrape food bits into your compost bin instead of washing it into the garbage disposal.  That means significant water savings.  A compost program has the added benefit of giving you additional green credentials for your customers as well.
  9. Landscape with conservation in mind. Many restaurants not only use water inside the restaurant but outside as well.  If you have any landscaping going on outside the restaurant, follow water conservation best practices to keep water usage down.
  10. Sweep and mop instead of spray. It may seem easier to just spray down kitchen floors and outside areas to keep them clean, but it’s certainly not cheaper.  Investing in some good old fashioned janitorial supplies like mops and brooms means some major water savings.  It might be a little more work for your staff, but those savings on the water bill will also help you pay their salary.

Finally, after you’ve put all the time into using the above tips to make your restaurant one lean, green, water-saving machine, make sure you tell your customers all about it!  You’ve worked hard to cut water usage, and perhaps the biggest reward you deserve is appreciation and increased loyalty from your customers.  Incorporate your efforts into your marketing campaigns.  It’ll surprise you just how effective a green message is in improving your name in the eyes of customers.

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How to be a Green Restaurant and Cut Costs

Through constant research as well as attending many industry programs, I have learned a great deal on what can be done in the “greening” of new restaurants.  Here’s a list of top ways your restaurant can go green:

  • The most obvious is to use high efficiency refrigeration, but there are many other ways to save on power costs.
  • Updated air-conditioning has given new and existing dining establishments a great way to save. A new system not only uses more “green” friendly refrigerants but the motor structures are much more energy efficient.
  • Lighting: New LED lighting uses a fraction of the power and can last many times longer than conventional illumination.  Today’s systems can be dimmed and have wider spectrum of color than the older, harsher lights of the past.
  • Using remote refrigeration instead of self-contained units can also increase the overall efficiency of all refrigeration.  Roof-top compressors can make a great savings in power usage.
  • Kitchen – make up air – new hoods using directed make up air – can save a great deal on the use of conditioned air being taken up by exhaust.  Well engineered kitchen layouts and air flow controls save a great deal on over usage.
  • Low-temp dishwashers can, depending on the local Health Department regulations, be possible to use these machines.  This equipment use a chemical disinfectant instead of high-temperature water to wash dishes and glassware.  They allow for much more efficient use of hot water thereby savings in both gas and electric.
  • On demand hot-water heaters and boosters has been the rage for the greening of new homes; however the use of on-demand appliances has been accepted more and more by local health and building municipal departments.   These units do not keep a tank of water hot for use but heats it as it is needed.  The savings here for the restaurant owner are incredible.  The booster units can work in locations where hot water is needed a distance from a hot water heater.  They can be placed under units in the restrooms or at the bar to keep the flow of under-heated water to a minimum or raise the temperature of cooler stored water to regulation temperature.
  • Low volumes flushing toilets and waterless urinals have become acceptable in many states and local areas and are very good at water savings.

All of these are, of course, easy to install on a new project.  When building a new operation everything is under review.  But most operations are already up and running.

As things age, we all need to do maintenance and equipment replacements.  When refrigeration needs repair it makes sense to evaluate whether repair or replacement is the right decision.   If a walk-in is of an older technology, it may be more cost effective to replace it with a better-insulated and more efficient model.  Most states have tax incentive programs to encourage operations to do just such a thing.  Operators should check with their local utilities to check on all programs available.

There are also many other ways to save on energy that are part of design.  Recently we were involved with a project that used prevailing air movements to save energy.  The designer used vented windows to take advantage of a prevailing breeze to direct air out of the dining room during the warm season thereby letting the management use less air conditioning.   We also insulated the ceiling and used ceiling fans to keep warm air in and recirculate it during cool times.    Design can have a great effect on operating costs and not just labor but energy.

The use of tints and filters on windows as well as shades and awnings, in the correct locations, and used as needed, continue to be useful for cost savings as well.

Every decision made in both the development and the maintenance of an operation has both an upfront expense as well as an ongoing cost.  It is important to research each one and to make sure suppliers and vendors also take these questions into consideration.  It is our duty to our investors and our guests to be as responsible as we  can, and in being responsible, it also makes good business sense.

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How To Become A LEED Certified Restaurant and Why You Should

Every year, your restaurant’s green credentials on the street gets more important.  According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), it’s one of the hottest trends this year.  Companies across the board, in and out of the food service industry, have scrambled in recent years to label their brands as green, with varying degrees of success.

Some companies have taken advantage of the green mood consumers are in by “greenwashing” their business – trumping up a bunch of nominally “green” practices and selling it to customers as a genuine commitment to sustainability.  The problem with greenwashing is that as consumers place more importance on sustainability, they’re also becoming more savvy about how effective the strategies companies tell them about really are.

This has led to a growing effort by companies that are genuine about their sustainability commitment to seek official credentials to back up their claims.  In the food service industry, national chains like Chipotle have built flagship locations to showcase their efforts and build green cred.

One of the most respected programs out there is run by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) and is a well recognized name among consumers: LEED.  The Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification process can be long and arduous, but it also carries an official respect that will completely wipe out any lingering customer suspicions about the true purpose of your intentions.

What is LEED and how do you become a LEED certified restaurant?  Good question.
The name of the game is to earn points when you build or remodel.  Out of a possible 110 points, there are 5 categories and 2 bonus categories in which you can earn points for sustainable building and design practices:

Sustainable sites. If you’re building a new location, you can earn points by selecting a site based upon sensitivity to several environmental factors including plants, wildlife, water, and air quality.  (21 points)

Water efficiency.
Technology and strategies that cut your restaurant’s water use by 20% over the baseline amount earn you points.  Earn even more points for cutting water use even further.  (11 points)

Energy and atmosphere. Maximizing your restaurant’s energy efficiency, managing ozone-depleting CFCs (usually found in refrigerants), and utilizing renewable energy are the three main areas that will earn you points in this category.  (37 points)

Materials and resources. Selecting sustainable resources for your building or remodel project (i.e. no redwood countertops) and developing an effective waste management strategy earn you points in this category. (14 points)
Indoor environmental quality.  Using sensors and controls to manage indoor temperature, humidity, and ventilation earn you points in this category.  (17 points)

Bonus points. These can be earned if you’re building or remodeling in a region that has been deemed a priority by the GBCI, or if your project shows exceptional innovation and leadership in design.  (10 points)

40 points are required for LEED certification; there are also three levels beyond a basic certification: Silver (50+), Gold (60+), and Platinum (80+).

Obviously, LEED certification isn’t for everyone.  That’s why it’s called a Leadership program.  But for those brave enough to try for certification, the payoff can be incalculable.

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge into a LEED program, check out these going green tips.

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Efficient Water Heating in Restaurants

Efficient Water Heating in RestaurantsRestaurants and commercial kitchens use A LOT of hot water.  In fact, it’s probably one of your larger energy expenses in a given month.

Tips to Cut Costs

  • Set water temperature to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Your dishwashing unit should have a built in booster heater that heats water to the required 180 degrees for dish sanitization. If it doesn’t, it’s more efficient to purchase a booster heater for the dishwasher than heat all your water to 180 degrees.  There’s no benefit to spending the extra energy to heat your water past 140 degrees, and reducing the heat can save you some significant money.
  • Insulate hot water pipes. Pipe insulation is cheap to buy and easy to install, and the energy you can save from such a simple technique is considerable.
  • Fix leaks right away. Whether it’s faucets or dishwashers or pre-rinse assemblies, fix whatever is leaking hot water right away.  A leak is just money going down the drain, something you can ill afford.
  • Use aerators and low-flow pre-rinses. Faucet aerators and low-flow pre-rinses reduce the amount of water you use and the amount of wastewater you produce, both of which will save you money.
  • Use the automatic flue damper. Most commercial water heaters have a flue damper that seals in heat when your water heater is idle.  Make sure this damper is working.
  • Set the timer on the recirculation pump. If your hot water heater has a recirculation pump, set or install a timer so that it turns off during non-business hours.  This prevents heat loss through the hot water pipes and could result in hundreds of dollars worth of savings.
  • Buy Energy Star rated water heaters. If you are replacing or installing a new heater, only buy Energy Star rated units and shop around to find the most efficient one available.
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How Hybrid Water Heating Can Make Your Restaurant As Cool As A Prius

How Hybrid Water Heating Can Make Your Restaurant As Cool As A Prius

Every restaurant needs hot water, and most of that water usually ends up being used to clean dirty cookware and cooking equipment.  More than likely you get your hot water from a conventional gas-fired water heater with a 100 gallon or larger tank.  For years the standard strategy for hot water has been to heat a large tank of water so that a large amount of hot water is on demand whenever you need it.

As natural gas prices rise, however, and restaurants look for ways to improve their sustainability credentials, conventional large-tank water heaters have become more and more unattractive.  For starters, conventional water heaters usually suck up 20% – 25% of a restaurant’s energy bill, which means a very large chunk of change is going into keeping 100 gallons of water in your basement hot at all times.

Even if you follow efficient water heating best practices, you’re spending a lot of dough.  Traditional heaters are also not very good at conserving water, since it usually takes a couple gallons to flush out cooled water in the lines before hot water reaches the tap.

For these reasons, some restaurants have started moving towards tankless, on-demand electric water heaters.  It’s amazing how much energy you can save when you don’t have to constantly heat a large tank of water.  The downside is that a tankless heater that’s capable of handling the large-volume requirements of a restaurant are pretty expensive to purchase and install.  Even so, a restaurant would see a return on investment through energy savings within two or three years.

That means new restaurants or ones with remodeling plans are in the perfect position to go tankless.  The extra investment up front translates into more black on the bottom line a few years down the road, especially since energy prices are only going to go up, not down.

I know, I know, most restaurateurs out there are probably thinking: “I’m not going to drop some serious dough on water heaters when I’ve got so many other things to worry about.”  I completely understand.  But I also have a “hybrid” solution for those of you who want to reduce your energy bills but don’t have the cash to invest in full-on tankless water heaters.

The answer lies in point-of-use commercial water heaters and faucets that operate a lot like a tankless water heater.  The only difference is they don’t have the same high volume capacity.  Point-of-use heaters maximize your efficiency because they are relatively inexpensive to install and take a significant load off your conventional heater, which means that 100-gallon tank can focus on the big stuff like your dish machine in the kitchen.

For server stations, handwashing sinks, and back bars, a commercial point-of-use instant hot water dispenser or mini-tank (2-4 gallon) electric hot water heater will greatly improve your efficiency and reduce energy bills.  This is primarily because you won’t be wasting all that hot water that sits in the pipes leading to these outlying hot water points.

When the time comes to replace your conventional heater, you’ll be able to downsize, leading to further energy savings.  The up-front cost of point-of-use commercial water heaters is much less, which means your return on investment will happen much faster.  From an economic standpoint, it makes sense.  From a sustainability standpoint, it makes for a great marketing opportunity.  If you’re willing to invest a little, the benefits are there for the taking.

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Serve Sustainable Seafood

Serve Sustainable SeafoodSeafood is a wonderful delicacy that helps form the backbone of thousands of restaurants. Seafood is healthy and great tasting, and customers love treating themselves to seafood when they go out to eat.

Unfortunately, overfishing has increased exponentially in the last 25 years, resulting in the collapse of a full third of the world’s fisheries. Many more are in serious decline, and if fishing continues at the present rate, all of the world’s fisheries will be tapped out by 2050. In response, several organizations have started promoting sustainable seafood choices that harvest fishery populations in a responsible and sustainable way. Restaurateurs have also taken notice, and more and more restaurants are offering sustainable seafood on their menus.

To become a sustainable seafood restaurant, check out the resource guide published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for both restaurants and consumers. This resource identifies fisheries that are being harvested sustainably so that you can make buying decisions accordingly.

Also talk with your restaurant’s seafood distributor and work with them to bring sustainable seafood options to your market. Many distributors already offer sustainable options and if they don’t, they should, so let them know that as a customer you would like a sustainable seafood option for your business.

Another option is to buy farm raised fish and shellfish products.  One such species that has recently become available is the striped pangasius, a type of catfish native to southeast Asia that makes a great center-of-plate white fish for any restaurant.

The debate between environmental groups and commercial seafood farms over the impact of farm raised seafood still rages, and The Back Burner will be exploring those issues in future posts.

Choosing to be a  sustainable seafood restaurant doesn’t have to mean compromising on the menu choices you offer your customers. It is possible to continue to bring great seafood menu items in a sustainable way.

And don’t forget to tell your customers you serve sustainable seafood. This is a great marketing tool that lets customers know you care about environmental trends and makes them feel better about ordering seafood items from your menu.

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Green Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment

Going Green” is a hot buzzword these days, and everyone, including the food service industry, is jumping on board the environmentally friendly bandwagon.

The great thing about going green in your restaurant is that you can cut costs and save yourself considerable money while improving customer loyalty and visibility at the same time.  In a time when cutting costs might mean sinking or swimming, going green might be the thing that helps you stay afloat.

This series is intended to help you cut costs and improve your business’ bottom line while making legitimate green restaurant claims to your customers.  And you just might save the planet in the process.

Tip #1:  Manage Equipment

The equipment in your restaurant or commercial kitchen uses thousands of dollars worth of energy every year.  Running this equipment is essential to your business, but it can also be a drain on profits if not managed properly.  Some tips to help you manage equipment:

Reduce idle times. Cooking equipment like broilers, steamers, ovens, holding cabinets, and fryers all take time to heat up for optimal use.

Because your kitchen staff is usually more concerned with food preparation times than energy efficiency, they tend to leave equipment running during downtimes to avoid being slowed down by heat up time.

Obviously, you also want to minimize food prep time, but striking a balance between time and energy use is easier than you might think.

Things like broilers and connectionless steamers don’t take very long to heat up, so shutting them down during even short lulls can save you money.  Ovens and fryers can be reduced to an idle temperature that uses less energy than constantly maintaining peak cooking temperature.  Newer fryer models even offer an automatic idle temperature feature.  And warming cabinets are often left on overnight, wasting energy.

Utilize efficient cooking strategies. Using energy hogs like salamanders or broilers is necessary to cook and serve a quality product.

But that doesn’t mean you have to use the least efficient weapons in your cooking arsenal all the time.  Evaluate how each menu item is prepared and devise strategies to employ the most efficient equipment in your kitchen as much as possible.

Steamers, convection ovens, griddles, and microwaves are more efficient than ranges, broilers, standard ovens, and salamanders, so if you can substitute one for the other without compromising the quality of your product, do so.

For more information on managing eqiupment, check out Green Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment…Continued

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Stop Giving Fryer Oil Waste Away!

Stop Giving Fryer Oil Waste Away!Disposing of used vegetable oil has always been a problem for restaurants.  In recent years it has gotten easier with the increasing demand for biodiesel.  Now many restaurants depend on free pickup services by biodiesel companies as a convenient and cheap way to dispose of their fryer oil waste.  Some even pay to have the stuff hauled away.

But what if you could take that oil and use it to save money, instead of just giving it away?  Enter Vegawatt power system that uses vegetable oil to generate electricity and pre-heat water going to your water heater.  It’s a self-contained unit that doesn’t require any special skills.  You pretty much just add oil and clean it out once in a while.

The savings on your restaurant’s electricity and hot water bills can be significant.  Vegawatt says the unit can save your business about $800 a month in electricity bills, although that does include a $100 per month renewable energy rebate from local government, which may or may not exist in your area.  Smaller operators probably don’t generate enough oil to take advantage of the Vegawatt power system, and the company recommends the machine for establishments that have 3 – 5 deep fryers and generate at least 50 gallons of waste oil a week.  If you do generate that much oil, however, you can realize a return on investment in 2 – 3 years.

Your used vegetable oil is now worth a lot more to you if you keep over giving it or selling it to a biodiesel company or paying to dispose of it.  It’s pretty amazing what a little ingenuity can do for a lifelong problem in the restaurant business.  Of course, there is some up-front investment required here, something that doesn’t sound very appealing, especially in a tight economy.  Vegawatt does offer a leasing program as well, and you’ll be saving more than the cost of the monthly lease.

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Becoming A “Zero Landfill Company” Is A Journey

Becoming A Zero Landfill Company Is A JourneyBeing completely trash-free is a daunting task.  Even a company in the business of “green” with highly educated Eco Patriots is challenged by this.  Last week, Eco-Products reviewed our waste diversion results from 2009.  We strive to divert 100% of our waste from landfills – everything is either composted or recycled.

Last year, we diverted 7 tons of compost/recyclable materials from the landfill out of total of 10.95 tons of waste – that’s a 64% diversion rate.  Honestly, it wasn’t as high as we had hoped.  We think some of the factors that may have contributed to our lower than expected % were:

  1. Moving to a larger building in which people were more spread out and couldn’t closely monitor each other’s disposal habits
  2. More employees which makes waste management more difficult
  3. Battling with illegal midnight dumping of construction debris in our dumpsters
  4. Bringing more waste into the building from the outside
  5. Not doing as much continual reinforcement and education with employees as in prior years.

In a company meeting, we reaffirmed our commitment towards waste diversion and set a goal of achieving at least 80% in 2010.  At the meeting, our CEO made a great comment about how he views our work environment.  Since starting at the company 8 months ago, he has viewed the building as a campsite in which he tries to leave no trace.  Whatever he packs in he packs out.  What a great philosophy to make you think twice about the packaging you use/buy.

Here are some steps we are going to take to achieve our goal this year:

  • Continue to only have trash bins in centralized locations, no bins in offices/cubes
  • Make a more conscious effort to treat the building as a leave-no-trace zone.  Pack-in-pack-out mentality.
  • Monitor our diversion rate quarterly instead of annually.
  • Search for solutions to products we currently don’t recycle or compost.  For example, the wrapping on reams of paper can’t be recycled or composted due to their lining.
  • Be more diligent about recycling hard to recycle items such as plastic bags and block styrofoam.  Drop them off at a local hard-to-recycle facility.
  • Install locks on our dumpsters.
  • Educate, educate, educate.  We are inviting in a representative from Eco-Cycle, a local recycler, who can answer our recycling questions.
  • Tour a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) – a recycling center – to see first hand what is considered a contaminant.  I’ll be doing this in the middle of March.
  • Hang up more signage near our recycling/compost/trash bins
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