Collaborating for Zero Waste
An Atlanta environmental group goes national with National Restaurant Association
By Debby Cannon, Ph.D., CHE
February 2011 marked the second anniversary of Atlantaâ€™s Zero Waste Zone (ZWZ).Â Atlantaâ€™sÂ ZWZ is one of the first of such programs for the nation, the Southeast and Atlanta. Launched in downtown Atlanta, the ZWZ promotes the recycling and repurposing of commercial waste into reusable products. The organization also teaches businesses about the importance of avoiding landfills and, instead, diverting assets back into the production cycle.
ZWZ is a division of Elemental impact (Ei) which is also based in Atlanta. Elemental impact is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing sustainable operating practices to the corporate community. Ei uses the foodservice industry as its mobilizing force. Holly Elmore, a well-known environmental leader, is the founder of Elemental impact.
With the celebration of ZWZâ€™s second anniversary, two major collaborations were announced. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) announced in late February a national collaboration with Ei and ZWZ. This collaboration will identify new best practices, create resources and measure the impact of perishable organics waste management and recycling efforts.
The second major collaboration is with Waste Management, the leading provider of comprehensive waste management and recycling services in North America. The collaboration, announced also in late February, will involve Waste Management exploring the initiation of a post-consumer organics materials solution in the Metro Atlanta area. The ZWZ provided a framework for Atlanta to become a key location for these activities.
The National Restaurant Association and Waste Management leaders praised the success of ZWZ. Scott DeFife, executive vice president for policy and governmental affairs for the NRA stated: â€œSustainability is imperative to our industry, other business communities and the general public. Working with Elemental impact, we are bringing industry stakeholders together to enable our members to establish â€“ and succeed in reaching â€“ waste diversion and resource recovery goals.â€
Randall Essick, director of business development and government affairs for Waste Managementâ€™s three-state South Atlantic Area stated: â€œDevelopment of a metro Atlanta solution for recycling organics fits with the companyâ€™s overall expansion into this arena in the South.â€
National statistics support the need for downtown Atlantaâ€™s efforts to spread into other areas of the country. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 31.8 million tons of food waste is generated per year. Of this amount, a significant 97.5% goes to landfills. Organic matter in landfills is the No. 1 source of man-made methane gas, which is 20 to 25 times more potent that naturally occurring carbon dioxide. Diverting the 31 million tons of food waste being sent to landfills annually is the equivalent of taking 5.2 million cars off the road for one year.
Atlantaâ€™s Zero Waste Zone maintains impressive statistics on the local impact of participating companies. For example, Fifth Group Restaurants diverted 289 tons of food residuals from landfills since joining the program in the spring of 2009. This tonnage is the equivalent of 20 84 passenger schools buses.
Hyatt Regency Atlanta, another ZWZ participant, generated 540 tons for the 1,260-room hotel since joining the program. If organics collection was available for each full-service Hyatt hotel nationally, 15,871 tons of food residuals could be diverted by its hotels annually, with an environmental impact of removing 2,626 cars off the road for one year.
So where does the waste go and what are the reusable products that potentially can be generated? According to the EPA, there are a number of options. One option is source reduction â€“ avoiding waste. This can be achieved by forecasting business demands more accurately, encouraging employees to prevent waste (i.e. save items that can be reused instead of throwing them away â€“ such as portion-controlled/packaged creamers, jellies and butters) and adjusting serving sizes to more closely mirror consumer appetites. Another option is to donate food, when and where appropriate, to homeless shelters or other â€œfeed the hungryâ€ efforts.
Composting is an additional option for organics. Compost creates healthy soil that prevents erosion and keeps the top soil from washing or blowing away. In areas that regularly experience drought, such as Georgia, compost increases water retention. Soil mixed with compost provides the nutrients necessary to create a dynamic microbial community that in turn builds structure within the soil. Healthy soil with a strong structure requires 30% less irrigation due to water retention.
Atlantaâ€™s Zero Waste Zone continues to grow with the addition of large and active new participants such as the City of Atlanta, the Woodruff Arts Center, Georgia Institute of Technology and the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Holly Elmore, Elemental Impact founder, commented: â€œThe Zero Waste Zoneâ€™s second anniversary brings amazing new relationships that are staged to expand the environmental and economic impact across the nation within the foodservice industry and beyond.â€
Authorâ€™s Note:Â Special appreciation is given to Holly Elmore for providing statistics and timely data and information for this article.
Debby Cannon, Ph.D., CHE, is Director of the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality, located in the highly ranked Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. The school offers three different programs: A B.B.A. degree with a major in hospitality; a certificate program (a post-baccalaureate program) in hospitality operations, event planning and meeting planning; and an M.B.A. degree with a concentration on hotel real estate. Visit the Cicel B. Day School of Hospitalityâ€™s website at www.robinson.gsu.edu/hospitality or call 404.413.7615.ï»¿