Have you ever thought about what happens to the stacks of plates of half eaten entrees and picked at salads at restaurants? Unfortunately, the cooks can’t exactly pack the leftovers up and serve them again tomorrow. In the United States food service industry, 25% of food that is prepared is lost as consumer waste. Restaurants are also the most energy intensive commercial structures in the United States, consuming nearly three times the energy of the average commercial building.*
Naturally, these problems wave red flags in sustainably minded students, so for the past couple of months a few partners and myself have been investigating restaurants in the Charlottesville area. Our trip along the Corner (UVA’s strip of off grounds shops, bars, and eateries, for those who are unfamiliar) has been enlightening; the number of cases of environmental ignorance is disheartening, but there is a sustainability pioneer amongst them. I decided to focus on this positive case as a model of what restaurants could and should be doing around the country. Boylan Heights. A prominent restaurant on the Corner, this establishment houses flocks of college students daily and is a quasi-landmark for the surrounding area. The restaurant’s theme is “prep-school,” with menu items in categories such as “orientation” and “dean’s list,” and is known for its delicious gourmet burgers. I had eaten at Boylan several times and was definitely a fan of their food, however, after interviewing one of their managers and learning about how they are managing their waste and implementing sustainable practices I am now an advocate of their entire establishment. Boylan will certainly see my business again…
First off, they compost. That means that instead of ending up in the landfill, leftovers are collected in a compost bin outside to be picked up by Black Bear composting. This company keeps the decomposing food until it become a humus-like material and can be added to soils. Used fryer oil is also collected and recycled by the company Green Light to be made into biodiesel, an amazing example of turning waste into something useful.
Boylan is a huge advocate for locally sourced food. They buy all their produce through a company called Resource Virginia which is the mediator between local farms and food service businesses to be able to provide local produce year-round. All of their meat is organic and grass-fed from a local Virginia butcher. Almost all of the beer they serve is local as well. They also do a great job with non-food waste like plastic and metal. All bottles and cans are recycled, as you can see when you’re in the restaurant if you look under each of the bars and in the kitchen. Their cups are Greenware, made completely out of plants, and their carryout boxes are recyclable, not styrofoam. Although these products are slightly more expensive than regular plasticware, the restaurant has saved money in other ways, such as recycling (trash collection is fairly expensive while recycling is free) and lowering electricity use, which balances the expense.
All in all, Boylan Heights is a terrific example of a sustainable restaurant, and I wish that other restaurants along the corner would follow suit. Even simple things such as making recycling bins available within the restaurant would make a difference, so we are hoping to have more conversations with restaurants to persuade them to implement sustainable changes.