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Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)

Here are some more tips on how to make sure your restaurant equipment is performing at maximum efficiency.

Perform regular equipment maintenance. Simple parts on cooking and refrigeration equipment break down or degrade over time from constant use, reducing energy efficiency and equipment performance.

Usually these parts are so easy to replace you can do it yourself:

 

Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)

Different refrigeration gasket styles

Door gaskets. The constant opening and closing of oven, steamer, and refrigerator or freezer doors leads to wear and tear on the gasket that helps seal in heat or cold.

Replace these gaskets as they become worn to reduce leaks.

Thermostats. The thermostat on your freezer, refrigerator, or fryer can lose its calibration or wear out, meaning the machine isn’t operating at optimal temperature.

Check thermostats regularly with a commercial thermometer and recalibrate or replace them as needed.

Check pilot lights and clean burners. Pilot lights are convenient but also represent a constant use of energy in your kitchen.  Make sure they aren’t using more energy than needed by checking them regularly.

If the flame is taller than a couple inches or yellow in color, adjust the flame until it’s small and blue.  Also clean oven and range burners regularly and replace burners that have worn out to maximize their efficiency.

Train kitchen staff. Implementing the tips above sounds good in theory, but unless you train your staff to think about energy efficiency, these strategies will remain just a theory.

Set idle time and shut down procedures for all your equipment to minimize their energy use.  Train head staff to check for bad door gaskets and thermostats.  Make sure full racks of dishes are going through the dishwasher instead of half full or mostly empty ones.

Most importantly, get your staff to understand why energy savings are important, and incentivize them to act efficiently.

Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)Buy Energy Star rated restaurant equipment. Replace old equipment in your kitchen as quickly as possible.  When shopping for new equipment, look for Energy Star ratings.  Most restaurant equipment has annual energy usage statistics.  Use this information to compare units and purchase the most efficient one.

No matter what, new equipment is going to be more efficient and perform better than old equipment.  Often the annual energy savings from new equipment will recoup the cost of purchasing it within a few years.

Also check for rebates from your local, state, or federal government for purchasing energy efficient equipment.

Carefully calculate capacity. One of the most common mistakes restaurant or commercial kitchen managers make when purchasing new equipment is buying too big.

Ice machines, refrigerators or freezers, and dishwashers are big energy users and are the most common units where this mistake is made.  Of course, buying too small is just as bad, and that’s why it’s important to accurately calculate your production needs.

Start by analyzing peak demand.  Once you know how many people or how many meals you serve per hour at peak demand times, you can better analyze what size equipment you need.

However, you should also take into account future growth.

Most restaurant equipment, if properly maintained, should last 5 – 10 years.  In that time your business should grow as well, meaning peak demand 5 years from now is going to be more than peak demand right now.

In general, overestimate equipment capacity by 10% – 20% to make sure it can meet your needs over the entire lifetime of the unit.

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Green Initiatives: A Rise In Cost Or A Part Of Your Marketing Budget?

QSR magazine published an article recently about new take out packaging for restaurants made from recycled plastic water bottles.  Dubbed The Bottle Box, the restaurants that have used it say it performs just as well or better than normal plastic take out packaging, and that it can be customized with your establishment’s name and logo very easily.  The biggest pitfall of The Bottle Box is the 2% – 5% increase in cost over regular packaging.

Recycled packaging and compostable disposables like corn cups are one of those things that always sounds good in theory, but can translate into some real costs in practice that affect your bottom line.  The Bottle Box is a good example of this.  The standard reaction by any businessman would be: why spend more for something that does the same job as the thing I’m using now?

Well, that’s one way to look at it.

Another approach is to take the relatively nominal increase in cost and view it as an expense in your marketing budget.  How does that work?  Well, instead of just labeling The Bottle Box with your restaurant’s logo, why not advertise the fact that you’re using recycled packaging?

Studies have consistently shown that consumers place a high value on food service operations that take green initiatives, and are even willing to pay a little more for those restaurant’s products.  Just look at the success of Chipotle in the last five years if you need a good example of this.

However, you don’t need to pass all costs on to your customer, and really you shouldn’t unless you have to.  There are measurable benefits to adding something like recycled packaging to your operation.  The key is making sure your customer knows about the initiatives you are taking.

Some tips on how to make sure you’re communicating properly:

Train servers to work green initiative plugs into their spiels.
There’s no better way to communicate with your customer than through your servers.  Have them remind guests about the green things you’re doing in a gentle, non-pushy way that nonetheless firmly implants your initiative in their head.

Post reminders throughout your restaurant. Do you have a recycling program?  Put up a sign that says “We Recycle” above a blue garbage can, if no one ever uses it.  The same goes for composting programs.  Do you use Energy Star rated equipment?  Put up an Energy Star logo where customers can see it.  Do you use The Bottle Box instead of straight plastic packaging?  Tell your customers right on the bag!

Work your green initiatives into your marketing materials. Whether it’s an ad in the paper, a flyer, or a website, don’t be afraid to announce that you’re taking action to make your restaurant greener.  If you’re particularly proud of your greening accomplishments, you may even want to launch an advertising campaign that specifically touts your efforts.

Don’t be afraid to take baby steps!
You don’t have to implement a comprehensive green program for your restaurant all at once to gain some real appreciation from your customers.  Start with simple stuff like a recycling program and green take out packaging.  Tell your customers about it.  Then take on something more involved like composting or sourcing vegetables locally.  No matter how small or incremental your efforts, your customers will appreciate it, and they can’t appreciate it if you don’t tell them.

Taking steps to improve your restaurant’s green image don’t have to be all about raising your costs either.  Many changes can have the dual benefit of making your restaurant more green and more efficient, which really is a win-win.  No matter how you green your restaurant, just make sure to announce it loud and clear to customers.  They’ll appreciate it.  And they’ll eat in your restaurant more often.

Check out a trove of going green tips here.

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Green Restaurant Tips: Use Efficiency Rebates!

Upgrading restaurant equipment to energy efficient models, maximizing water heater efficiency, and  installing Energy Star rated ceiling fans and ventilation, just to name a few green strategies, all mean spending some money before you save some.

For years the obstacle of spending money up front to save money down the road has been one of the major impediments preventing business owners from maximizing energy efficiency.

As energy costs continue to rise, the benefits of investing in energy efficiency has become a more and more appealing venture.

Green Restaurant Tips: Use Efficiency Rebates!

Show me the money! Get rebates for green restaurant practices.

Local and state governments have also recognized the environmental and social benefits of encouraging energy efficiency, and have responded with rebate rewards for businesses that adopt energy efficient practices.

So when you are considering implementing some energy efficient upgrades in your restaurant or commercial kitchen, keep in mind that significant cost can be offset by rebates.

To find rebates available in your area, check out Energy Star’s Rebate Finder.  This is a great tool, however, this rebate finder will only search for available rebates when purchasing new Energy Star rated restaurant equipment.

Federal tax credits are also available for commercial buildings for money spent to make heating and cooling more efficient.  State and local tax credits may also be available, depending on where you live.

Even utility companies have gotten into the act, and many reward energy efficient practices with a rebate on your energy bill.

More and more utility companies are offering rebates for purchasing Energy Star rated equipment and adopting energy efficient practices.  Check with your local utility company and get a full list of rebates available.

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4 Strategies For Better Commercial Refrigeration Efficiency

4 Strategies For Better Commercial Refrigeration EfficiencyNow that we are entering the hottest time of the year, it’s a good time to examine the commercial refrigeration units in your restaurant and make sure they are operating as efficiently as possible.  No matter what you do, you’re going to end up spending more money on refrigeration this time of year than any other.  However, that doesn’t mean you should have to spend any more than absolutely necessary.

Have you optimized your commercial refrigeration efficiency?  Doing so can save you a LOT of money.  Here’s the main areas you should focus on:

Clean those coils! You’ve probably heard it before but if you haven’t gotten behind your refrigerators and freezers and cleaned off the coils, you need to hear it again.  The condenser and evaporator coils take the heat inside your refrigerator and disperse it outside the unit, and if air can’t pass over the coils, then they radiate heat much more slowly.  That makes your unit work harder to keep things cool and it consumes more electricity.

Replace worn or torn door gaskets. The door gasket forms a seal when the unit’s door is closed, preventing cold air from seeping out and warm air from seeping in.  If that gasket isn’t sealing properly, it’s costing you money.  Health inspectors also don’t like torn gaskets because food bits and grime gather in them and create a breeding ground for bacteria.  Luckily, replacing the gasket is an easy process.

Turn off door heaters. All this heater does is prevent frost from building up on the inside door of your refrigeration unit.  Most units don’t even have a frost problem, and so the heater just uses up energy.  If you do have a problem with frost buildup or have water pooling in front of the unit, then you absolutely must have the door heater on.  More often than not, however, it’s not an issue.4 Strategies For Better Commercial Refrigeration Efficiency

Outfit your walk-in. Strip curtains help drastically reduce the loss of cold air when the door to your walk-in is open, and when it’s closed, the curtain adds an extra layer of insulation.  Also make sure the door latch is working properly and actually catching when you close the door.  A worn or broken latch means the door gasket isn’t fully sealed, and you’re losing cold air.  Also use a door closer to automatically pull the walk-in door shut quickly after it’s opened.  The less cold air you lose, the better off you’ll be.

It’s amazing how much in energy savings you can realize from a few simple steps.  Of course, there will always be a point where you cannot optimize your refrigeration equipment any more, and natural degradation in performance will occur no matter what you do.  When the time comes to buy a new commercial refrigerator or freezer, buy an Energy Star rated model if at all possible.  Even if you can’t find an Energy Star unit that works for you, simply upgrading to a new unit will mean better efficiency because new technologies are being added to commercial refrigeration units all the time, and a new unit will perform better simply because it’s newer.

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The Green Restaurant Association: Sustainable Knowledge Is Power

The Green Restaurant Association: Sustainable Knowledge Is PowerWhen Michael Oshman started the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) in 1990, hardly anybody in the food service industry thought much about sustainability.

“The green business movement wasn’t something that really existed,” he says.  “We were one of the first organizations that wanted to help businesses.  We asked: ‘What if we went to businesses and provided tools that helped them directly?’  If we can make it convenient and easy then maybe we can get somewhere.”

The most powerful tool in the GRA’s arsenal of business solutions is information. The organization has built what they call “the world’s largest database of green solutions for the restaurant industry,”  – a resource of information about almost every sustainable product and service available to a food service operation.  Each one is rated on a point system, and each has gone through a certification process that evaluates sustainability – from water usage to energy consumption to waste reduction.

The more points a business accumulates, the closer it gets to becoming Green Restaurant Certified.  Restaurants must attain at least 100 points, meet minimum requirements in certain categories, implement a recycling program, and get ongoing annual training in order to qualify.

“It’s really about the standards for us,” says Oshman.  “The information we give restaurants – whether it’s compostable or energy efficient or whatever – they don’t have to wonder.  They know because we’ve done the due diligence.”

Those standards have become the gold standard for consumers when they are choosing a sustainable dining option.  The issue plays a much larger role in shopping decisions today than it did in the early days of the Green Restaurant Association, and that has only helped them make the case that sustainability makes sense for business.

As Oshman points out: “You better listen to your customer.  If you’re not keeping up then someone else is.  The difference with sustainability is that this isn’t some cool trend.  This is a value.  As people become more and more interested in sustainable values they start to act out those values as a consumer.  What do they do?  They buy green.  They dine green.”

Increasingly, sustainability is a competitive advantage for restaurants.  A Harris Interactive poll from 2010 indicated 17% of consumers would choose Restaurant A over Restaurant B even if it meant waiting in a longer line and an additional 21% would choose A if the wait time was the same.

Green Certified restaurants and the GRA have been featured in most major national news publications and networks, from The New York Times to CNN.  This has led to a widespread recognition of the organization and its certification standards that provides an important advantage to certified restaurants.

Certified restaurants have also realized an unexpected benefit from making their operations more sustainable: improved employee morale.  Oshman has heard restaurateurs report that 50% of their employees are there because of the sustainability efforts that resulted in a GRA certification.

Turnover is a constant source of frustration and cost in the food service industry.  Anything that helps restaurateurs maintain a high level of service with well traiThe Green Restaurant Association: Sustainable Knowledge Is Powerned, experienced employees is vital to keeping a competitive edge.  Connecting with employees on the values of sustainability is an important way to motivate the workplace with a culture built around causes those employees believe in.

Regardless of how food service operators feel about sustainability personally, the fact of the matter is this is a trend that isn’t going away any time soon.  The National Restaurant Association’s Hot Menu Trends For 2012 include several sustainable and locally sourced food trends in their top ten, and sustainability has been in the top ten trends for food service operators for the past several years.

Making the transition to a sustainable operation can make business sense if executed properly, and ultimately that is the mission of the Green Restaurant Association: to give restaurants the tools that will make them want to make that change rather than forcing change through regulation.

The case for sustainability is compelling, and the tools are available.  Says Oshman: “What we’re doing today is what inspired me 22 years ago – to make it easy for businesses to do the right thing.  We’re still far from achieving that with every business but now the game is different, the consumer wants to see the change and that’s what keeps us going.”

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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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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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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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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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