Drunken Onion owner Ben Struk is tossing a bucket of food waste into the restaurant’s compost bin this week.
Drunken Bow/Courtesy photo

In the restaurant industry, food waste is correlated with a significant waste of business funds.

Local restaurant owners say they are doing everything they can to reduce food waste, and recycling the inevitable food waste is part of that picture, including the option of commercial composting.

“All of our waste is quite dense. We try to minimize our losses at every level,” said Chris Shea, owner of the Cruisers Sub Shop at Wildhorse Market Place. “In terms of our business model, composting is not a problem and is now viable.”

Cruisers is one of three local restaurants participating in a restaurant composting pilot program funded by a Sierra Club grant and run as a training project for a student intern at the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. Participating restaurants receive up to six months of free commercial composting services, as well as technical assistance and training to help staff develop composting habits.

YVSC Waste Diversion director Wynn Kauman said funding is still available for two more restaurants to participate in the pilot this year in addition to Cruisers, The Drunken Onion and Salt & Lime. To date, nearly three tons or 1,308 gallons of food waste have been collected from three restaurants for composting.

Cauman said restaurant composting programs have been introduced in other Colorado mountain communities such as Salida, Durango, Summit and Pitkin counties. It’s more common for Rutt County restaurants to keep food-collection buckets in their kitchens to feed local chickens or pigs, Cauman said, another positive distraction method.

The director noted that the Routt County Climate Action Plan has set an ambitious target of 46% of waste going to landfill by 2030. Strategies such as reuse, recycling, and composting prevent the disposal of materials in which organic materials emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

According to the recent Steamboat Springs Recycling Study, the city’s current recycling rate is 9%, making the Steamboat one of the lowest rates in Colorado, Kauman said. Organic waste, including food waste, is the largest material in the waste system by weight and accounts for almost 30% of the waste sent to landfills.

Ben Struck, owner of The Drunken Onion, said he has used composting in the past and is pleased with how easy composting Cowgirl Compost on a steamboat has made composting for his restaurant staff. The compost material is stored in a bear-proof bin and taken outside for collection in the same way as garbage, Struck said.

“I feel that organic matter composting makes sense on all levels,” Struck said. “In my business, even though we are very careful with waste, we still produce 5 to 10 gallons of organics a day.”

Struck said composting diverts up to 30% of his business’ trash. Shea estimates that at Cruisers they have redirected 20% to 30% of their garbage to composting since joining the pilot program.

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

Both restaurant owners hope to continue composting after the pilot program. Struck said he hopes more restaurant owners will sign up for composting in the hope that increased sales will reduce restaurant owners’ costs.

Cauman said Salt & Lime, which signed on to the project in May, is also working on composting post-consumer food waste, which poses additional challenges, such as storing plastic straws and lids in the compost bin.

For more information, restaurant owners can write to [email protected].

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