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Talking trash

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Ninety-nine bottles of beer in the trash is nothing. How about 99 bottles of beer, 75 bottles of wine, a mountain of cardboard, plastic, cans and food? Every day?

That's Velo Rouge's contribution to a dumpster in back of the restaurant at Markham and Cumberland, chef de cuisine Eddie Moran says. “At about 9 tonight,” he said, pointing to a foot above the dumpster, “the waste will be this high.”

Moran and other restaurateurs in the River Market district are wondering: How can we recycle this stuff and keep dumping costs down and dumpster-diving Norway rats at bay?

As it turns out, there's not much interest among recyclers for glass, which is too bad for an entertainment district that every week is tossing out a heap of bottles high enough to reach the moon.

But after a few false starts trying to quantify just how much cardboard is being thrown away, restaurants have found a paper recycler. Starting in mid-June, tentatively, Service Group of Heber Springs will begin picking up boxes from “pens” — simple wire collectors — placed in four locations in the district. It won't cost restaurateurs anything to recycle and it will save on dumpster space.

The recycling division of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, with the help of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, conducted a “waste audit” of all the trash thrown away May 1 from the Flying Saucer Restaurant and Bar.

Earlier audit attempts didn't work because of the difficulty in getting all the trash saved. This time, volunteers sat for 12 hours at the back door of the Flying Saucer making sure all waste destined for the dumpster was saved for measuring. The following day, a group from ADEQ and ACES performed the enviable task of going through the trash, sorting out potentially recyclable materials.

The result: In one day, the Flying Saucer ejected 102 pounds of food waste, 78 pounds of glass, 20 pounds of cardboard, 7 pounds of plastic, 4.5 pounds of metals and 4 pounds of office paper. Another 113.5 pounds of waste was “trash.” Seventy-nine percent of the waste would be recyclable — if a recycler could be found.

The 20 pounds of cardboard doesn't sound like much. But cardboard waste varies according to delivery days, and is more on some days. Multiply that by the dozen or so restaurants in the River Market district and the Little Rock Main Library — which fills a dumpster a week with cardboard — and it's enough to get a recycler interested. Especially one that is building a facility in Little Rock, which Service Group is doing to accommodate its new big job: recycling all the paper waste from state government offices.

Tim Heiple, the head of the River Market Neighborhood Association and vice chair of the Keep Little Rock Beautiful board, who's been instrumental in the push to get recycling started, would like to get the number of dumpsters in the alley behind Flying Saucer reduced. The savings that would produce could conceivably go toward a glass recycling program, he said. A tidier alley could, at the very least, keep the rat headcount down.

There's no market for glass, Service Group's Kendrick Ketchum explained, because it's heavy to transport. “You can only transport so much, and you have to take it so far away,” that costs overrun any money to be made. Waste Management, which contracts with the city of Little Rock, does no commercial glass recycling (and if it did, it would charge businesses for it, as it does for cardboard pick-up). Still, Heiple, Ketchum and environmental consultant Ron Meyers, who is on the City Beautiful board, aren't giving up on glass. Meyers, who decries the state of recycling in Arkansas as a whole, would like to see some sort of glass business created in the city. “It's still on the table,” Ketchum said. Heiple mentioned that there's a glass crusher on the market for $100,000.

Velo Rouge's Moran wants to find an outlet for the food waste as well. “I think we could if we were able to find some small farms around here interested in taking compost.” He said “green trash” cans could be set up to hold “anything once alive.” He praised Arkansas Natural Produce in Melbourne for its practice of taking back the boxes it ships food in for reuse or recycling.

Moran came to Velo Rouge, which opened earlier this year, from San Francisco, which, not surprisingly, is light years ahead of Little Rock in recycling. “I worked for Traci de Jardins [of Jardiniere] and we were 90 percent compostible” on top of recycling other materials. “It was a real shock to me when I came here and found we had no existing recycling program.” If an 85-seat restaurant like Velo Rouge throws out several trashcans a night full of bottles, he asked, what must big restaurants be trashing?

“This is not a small town anymore,” Moran said. “We need better ways to take care of Little Rock.”

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