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National Restaurant Association - 7 steps to successful cardboard recycling

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7 steps to successful cardboard recycling

Many restaurant owners want to recycle but don’t know how or where to begin. Starting a big, complex recycling program can be difficult because different cities and counties accept contrasting materials, training staff can be time consuming and establishing a front-of-house recycling bin system can take up considerable space.

Even if you can’t tackle everything at once, you can start by recycling the material that takes up about 25 percent of your dumpster. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s cardboard! According to the National Restaurant Association's 2018 The State of Restaurant Sustainability report, 65 percent of restaurants recycle cardboard and paper.

“Focusing on recycling your cardboard will help you get big bang for your buck by reducing the size of your waste stream and the need for a big dumpster to hold your ‘trash,'” says Jeff Clark, the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve program director.

Waste material, such as cardboard shipping boxes, often has significant market value as useful new products. Boxes can be recycled and turned into paper cups or other items if the material isn’t contaminated.

Here are seven tips to get you going:

  • Find out if you can recycle on premise. If you rent your space, check your lease to make sure you can place additional bins out back. If you can, make sure there’s enough room throughout the space and/or parking lot.
  • Train staff to safely cut up boxes and lay them flat in the cardboard bin. That will reduce empty space between loosely packed boxes so you can fit more in for each pick up. In turn, you’ll save money and look more organized and clean to your customers and employees.
  • Put only cardboard in the cardboard recycling bin. Don’t contaminate the pile with other bags, bottles or cans. Also make an effort to keep it as dry as possible.
  • Ask your recycler whether he or she accepts waxed cardboard from foodstuff deliveries. Waxed cardboard must be separated from normal cardboard because the wax contaminates pulp during reprocessing.
  • Find out who will pick it up. Call local recycling centers and government agencies for information on finding the right hauler. Get references from neighboring business owners. And check out GridWaste.com, where haulers bid for your business.
  • Get baled out. If you have space constraints at your restaurant, ask the recycler about a cardboard baler to crush and bind the cardboard. Ask whether he or she can use the baled material as is. If not, ask what companies would accept it instead. Also, reach out to city or state environmental agencies about financial assistance to buy baling equipment.
  • Log your savings; revisit your efforts. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so track your cardboard recycling by weight, if possible, as well as monetary savings. Once you have a successful program in place, consider expanding to single-stream recycling.

The National Restaurant Association's 2018 Sustainability Executive Study Group meeting will take place April 3-4 in Atlanta. Register now and check out the conference agenda.

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