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Is Your Recycling Program Really Working?

We’ve talrecycleked before on The Back Burner about the importance of greening your restaurant operation for two reasons: because customers appreciate it (and are beginning to expect it) and because frequently green practices mean cost savings.

Unfortunately recycling is not a practice that usually saves your operation money.  It is, however, one of the most visible ways to communicate to customers and staff that you’re serious about running a sustainable establishment.

Implementing a recycling program isn’t hard, but maintaining one can be deceptively tricky.  Tundra Specialties, the restaurant equipment & supplies company behind The Back Burner, discovered recently just how tricky a recycling program can be.

Tundra has had recycling receptacles distributed throughout our office space for several years now, but it was only recently that we discovered something had gone awry.

A few years ago we switched from one sanitation company to another, and during the transition the dumpster for recyclables was removed by the old company and the new company never replaced it.  That meant that when the cleaning crew emptied recycling containers there was only one dumpster to throw the recycling into, and everything in that dumpster went straight to the landfill.


Jordan Scampoli, Tundra’s Pricing Analyst & Sustainable Operations Coordinator

The cleaning crew works in the evenings when nobody is here in Tundra’s office headquarters in Boulder, CO, so there was little opportunity for them to communicate to our staff that recycling and trash was going to the same place.  The warehouse staff knew something was wrong because they regularly dispose things directly in the dumpster, but again, there was little opportunity for communication between them and the people managing our new sanitation company.

It wasn’t until Jordan Scampoli, Tundra’s pricing analyst and newly minted Sustainable Operations Coordinator started digging into the recycling program that we discovered the mix-up.

“We got a little complacent about the recycling program and we just assumed things were working as they always had,” he says.  “Now we know better and we won’t let it happen again.”

Tundra has renewed its commitment to being a sustainable part of the Boulder community, and thanks to Jordan’s passion we have someone who will make sure that commitment is honored.  Plans are already in the works to add compost receptacles and hard-to-recycle materials like packing Styrofoam and pallet wrap, and new employee training programs are also planned to make sure each new receptacle is used appropriately.

“Failing to sort recyclables and compostable stuff appropriately can ruin an entire recycling program,” Jordan says.  “If too many contaminants are found in a bale of recyclables at the recycling center then the whole thing goes straight to the landfill.  It’s so important to sort properly and know what is recyclable and what is not.”

Your operation can learn from Tundra’s mistake!

Simply putting out a few recycling bins in your restaurant doesn’t make for an effective program.  Sure, it might look good to have those three arrows in a triangle next to your trash bin, but if you’re not following through with proper staff training and making sure someone is responsible for the program as a whole you might just end up with two trash cans.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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