Sorting Out A ‘Fast Food’ Waste Problem

Sorting Out A ‘Fast Food’ Waste Problem

Most fast food diners in
Seattle have had this experience: finish your meal, walk up to the three bins, and pause
in confusion. "For a lot of customers it's like, okay. Where does this go?" Since 2010, Seattle has required restaurants to package food in either recyclable or compostable material. Restaurants must also provide three bins: garbage,
recycling and compost. "What we're thinking now is for most of the stuff that holds solid food, like plates or bowls or clam shells, um, having it recyclable is not that helpful." The problem became evident when a Northwest fast food chain took a closer
look at what customers actually put in the bins. Wes Benson is the sustainability manager for
Taco Time. "It really
just took one person in a hurry to put the garbage in the recycling bin or the recycling
in the compost bin and so it had to go to the landfill anyway." Toss plastic
containers in the compost bin, or food in the recycling and it all becomes trash. "Nine of 10 bags of recyclables would end up going
in the garbage. Nine out 10 bags that were supposed to be compostable would have to go
right in the trash." After watching 90 percent
of their recycling and compost get dumped in the garbage, they looked at a different
approach. "How much more would it cost, instead of having some recyclables and some compostables if we went to all compostable in the dining room?" They crunched the numbers
and found that switching to all-compostable wasn't nearly as expensive as they feared. They went back to a one-bin system — except
now, the one bin is for compost. "No confusion. No standing there trying to decipher a sign. It's just all
one bin. It goes in there. And that's it." And now the city of Seattle is considering rules that would require all
restaurants to follow suit. "Our hope is that we'll get to the point where for most of the stuff that holds food, the requirement
will be it needs to be compostable." They hope fewer bins will
lead to less confusion in the food court. "Everything is compostable.Everything. Yup. Yeah, the whole thing surprisingly."

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