(POSTED: November 6, 2004)
Haute Cuisine Goes Green
Compost made from the waste of high-end San Francisco restaurants is spread through the vineyards at the Bouchaine winery in Napa, Calif. Haute cuisine is going green in a program that recycles restaurant and household food scraps into high-grade compost for Northern California vineyards. More than 2,200 restaurant or food businesses and 75,000 housesholds in San Francisco are involved in the clean plate, clean environment plan, which has become a national model for food recycling.
Earth to earth: San Francisco restaurant food makes good compost
BERKELEY, Calif. - A program that recycles restaurant and household food scraps into high-grade compost is underway in Northern California farms and vineyards. More than 2,200 restaurants and food businesses and 75,000 households in San Francisco take part in the clean-plate, clean-environment project, which began on an experimental basis in the late 1990s and has since become a national model for food recycling.
From Candlestick Park to Fisherman's Wharf, table scraps are deposited in green plastic cans and then converted into Four Course Compost.
The result is less waste in landfills, lower garbage pickup costs, vibrant vines and vegetables - and a cheerful sense of completing a circle.
"Now you have restaurateurs that are excited about sending nutrients back to the farms and vineyards. That's exciting stuff. That's role reversal," says Robert Reed of Norcal Waste Systems Inc., the San Francisco-based producers of Four Course Compost.
The food scraps come from burger joints as well as some of the city's fanciest restaurants, including Jardiniere and Boulevard.
"We love the program," says Jonathan Cook, supervisor of operations at the Metreon, an entertainment complex in San Francisco that has eight restaurants supplying compost fodder. "It's increased the morale in the kitchens. People feel they're not throwing things out, they're doing something good for the environment while they're working."
Metreon restaurants are also saving about $1,600 US in garbage pickup fees every month, Cook says.
"That is what is so absolutely cool about it," says Kate Krebs, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition. "Not only is a good, green environmental story, but it goes right to the bottom line." Growers like the program, too.
"I think it's been fabulous," says Kathleen Inman, owner and winemaker at Inman Family Vineyards in Sonoma County. The organic compost makes for healthy green vines, and it is a kick to think of the soil's candlelit past, she says.
Californians throw away more than five million tonnes of food scraps each year, according to the state. That amounts to 16 per cent of all material going into landfills.
While many cities are recycling bottles, cans and paper, food waste remains "the new frontier," Krebs says. When the San Francisco program began, many people "kind of sat back and put their arms across their chest and said, 'Sure. Let's see how it will work in a city that has hills, that has little if any storage space. Let's see how it works.' "
The program has since expanded to some restaurants in Oakland, while Los Angeles officials recently asked Norcal Waste to begin a pilot program with restaurants there. And the Seattle city council recently voted to start a residential food scrap program.
In Northern California, Norcal Waste subsidiaries collect the food scraps and other compostable material and turn it into nutrient-rich organic matter at a composting centre outside Vacaville, about 80 kilometres east of San Francisco. There, the table scraps are ground with cardboard, soiled paper and yard trimmings - the compost is about 50 per cent food - and pushed into bags, where it decomposes.
Sales of Four Course Compost have increased 23 per cent by volume in each of the last two fiscal years, Reed says.
At the Metreon, Cook is thinking about organizing a wine tasting of vintages grown with Four Course Compost.
"It's closing the gap, throwing the food out and bringing it back with the grapes and drinking it again in the restaurant," he says. "It's pretty great."
Last month Toronto introduced a green bin program throughout much of the city. Residents put kitchen scraps and other organic waste out for separate collection. The waste is turned into compost instead of being trucked to a Michigan landfill site along with the rest of the city's garbage.
By MICHELLE LOCKE / The Associated Press