Victoria’s restaurant industry struggles for sustainability

Due to increased pressure on the Hartland landfill in recent years, the Capital Regional District (CRD) plans to completely ban organic/kitchen waste — which composes 30 per cent of Victoria’s waste — from its Hartland landfill in 2015.

Within the two-year time period leading up to the ban, restaurants will be notified that soon no organic waste will be accepted. Once the ban is enacted, fines will be issued for not abiding it.

According to several downtown restaurateurs, the city is demanding they comply without offering the resources or education for them to deal with the tonnes of food waste generated every day.

“If there were some place where I could take my compost to at the end of each day, I would do it,” says Antonio Sousa, manager of Qoola Frozen Yogurt Bar. But other local restaurant managers feel paying extra fees for waste disposal is not feasible for them.

An Oct. 20 sample of 12 restaurants in Victoria’s downtown revealed only three were composting. At all three of those restaurants, the composts primarily consisted of paper plates and utensils — excluding all kitchen and food waste.

Several restaurant owners identify four perceived barriers to composting: cost, space, knowledge and services. An owner of a popular downtown restaurant who wished not to be named says cost is the biggest barrier.

“If someone was picking up the waste for free, I would definitely partake. I pay money monthly for garbage disposal in my lease agreement, so adding expenses for disposal wouldn’t be highest priority.”

Restaurants located in the dense downtown area have limited space available to them, so storing an extra bin may take up room they don’t have.

At many of the 12 surveyed restaurants, owners and employees didn’t know what compost is or what the benefits of greening their business might be. Many believed that recycling and composting were the same thing.

Sean Hepple is a sustainability consultant for Waste Management, Inc., a large North American company that helps clients manage and reduce waste from collection to disposal. He says these perceived barriers can be addressed.

“Composting is not always more expensive,” Hepple says. He points out that waste pick-ups can be reduced when some of that waste is diverted to compost, which helps offset the cost of the composting program.

Hepple explains that there are also ways to work around the barrier of space; all sorts of innovative solutions have been created for addressing this. The Molok system, for example, involves underground containers with the capacity to store large amounts of waste while taking up minimal surface area.  Lastly, Hepple says lack of services should not be a barrier for businesses. If they are interested in composting services, there are companies that service locally, such as Waste Management, OrganiCo, ReCYCLISTS or ReFUSE. “There are options,” says Hepple.

The desire to change waste management practices to more sustainable systems is evident — several surveyed restaurant owners and managers are keen to learn more about how they could adopt composting systems at their restaurant or how to improve what they already have in place. The CRD offers some education resources for businesses to access on its website (for example, myrecyclopedia.ca, which provides businesses with information about how to green their business and what options are available to them).

“Anything to help achieve sensible composting and recycling policies is a good thing,” says Sousa. “But I’m just not sure how.”

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