Restaurant composting pilot program diverts 3 tons of food waste so far

Drunken Onion owner Ben Stroock is emptying a bucket of food scraps into the restaurant’s compost bin this week.
The Drunken Onion / Image courtesy

In the restaurant industry, food waste is associated with significant waste of business money.

Local restaurateurs say they do their best to reduce food waste, and getting rid of the inevitable food waste is part of that overall picture, including the option of commercial composting.

“All of our waste is pretty tight. We try to minimize our waste on every level,” said Chris Shea, owner of Cruisers Sub Shop at Wildhorse Market Place. “From the perspective of our business model, composting is a no-brainer, and it’s now viable. “

Cruisers is one of three local restaurants participating in a restaurant composting pilot program funded through a Sierra Club grant and run as an education project for a student intern with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. Participating restaurants receive up to six months of free commercial composting service, as well as technical assistance and training to help employees form composting habits.

YVSC Waste Diversion Director Winn Cowman said funding is still available for two other restaurants to participate in the pilot project this year in addition to Cruisers, The Drunken Onion and Salt & Lime. So far, nearly three tons, or 1,308 gallons, of food waste has been collected from the three restaurants for composting.

Cayman said restaurant composting programs have been established in other Colorado mountain communities such as Salida, Durango, Summit and Pitkin counties. In Root County restaurants, it’s more common that kitchens may keep a food collection bucket to feed local chickens or pigs, which is another positive diversion method, Kauman said.

The director noted that the Root County Climate Action Plan set an ambitious goal of achieving 46% of waste diverted from landfills by 2030. Strategies such as reuse, recycling and composting keep materials from being landfilled as organic matter generates methane, It is a very powerful greenhouse gas.

According to a recent Steamboat Springs Recycling study, the city’s current waste diversion rate is 9%, making Steamboat among the lowest in Colorado, Cowman said. Organic waste, including food waste, is the largest material by weight in the waste system and accounts for approximately 30% of waste sent to landfills.

Ben Stroock, owner of The Drunken Onion, said he has used compost in the past and is happy with how easy it is for Steamboat-based Cowgirl Compost to make compost for his restaurant staff. The compost material is stored in a bear-resistant container and placed outside for pickup in the same way as litter, Stroke said.

“I feel that composting makes perfect sense on all levels,” Stroke said. “From my business, even though we’re very judgmental about waste, we still produce 5 to 10 gallons of organic matter per day.”

Stroke said composting diverts up to 30% of his company’s waste. At Cruisers, Shea estimates they have composted 20% to 30% of their waste since joining the pilot.

“We have always wanted to compost from the start. Practicality is usually the biggest hurdle,” Shea said. “It’s not that complicated for our business; it’s just an extra step. I think what it makes up for in the long run is definitely worth it.”

The restaurant owners hope to continue composting after the pilot program. Stroke said he hopes more restaurant owners will engage in composting in the hope that high-volume sales will lower costs for restaurant owners.

Cayman said Salt & Lime, which signed up for the project in May, is also working to compost post-consumer food waste, which adds challenges like keeping straws and plastic lids out of the compost bin.

To find out more, restaurateurs can contact

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