The waste discussion is back — or getting bigger than ever before, perhaps. This is according to Joe Sorgent, director of sustainability for Cini-Little International Inc., who started as a waste consultant back in the early 2000s.
“For something like 20 years, we didn’t have a lot of waste projects and even pre-COVID if we had a couple projects a year, it would be amazing,” he says. Now that number has skyrocketed into the hundreds just in the last year, Sorgent says. And the interest in managing waste appeals to a variety of operations, from convention centers and major hotels and resorts to universities, large-scale corporate complexes, government buildings, trendy restaurants and more.
A variety of factors continue to drive companies interest in managing waste. In some cases, the enhancing waste management is part of a company’s ESG reporting as the business strives to lessen its impact on the environment. Increased government mandates are also a driver, especially in Canada and California. “I’m not sure if people care more now because they care or because there are more and more mandates popping up,” Sorgent says. He wouldn’t be surprised if more major cities across the U.S. implement mandates for businesses not to go over a certain amount of organic waste, for example.
That said, here are just a few things foodservice designers can do with their project teams to manage waste — right now.
Organics collection is where it’s at right now — again possibly due to mandates that require companies to manage it.
“I keep focusing on the organics because that's really what everyone is talking about right now. People are more aware of recycling, and more things can be recycled these days but ultimately we’re trying to get away from sending waste to landfills,” says Sorgent. “Organics is the big untapped waste stream. You can gather organics throughout the facility; even in bathrooms, the paper towels are organic. This is important for [companies] that want to meet net-zero goals, even though it’s more like 90% diversion from landfills.”
While many waste management companies will gladly haul away compost for a fee, the good news is on-site composting is becoming easier than ever thanks to smaller, more efficient, and in some cases more affordable machines on the market today.
“They're smaller now than they have ever been,” says Sorgent about these pieces. Not to mention, “What took six to eight weeks to compost just a few years ago now take just 24 hours, which is amazing.”
Some of Sorgent’s recent clients investing in on-site composters have included island-based resorts with less access to third-party composters as well as healthcare institutions, universities and even an aquarium.
Invest in a Waste Estimate
You have to know your baselines and what you’re working with to address waste management and have a plan. “We start off with a waste generation estimate,” Sorgent says. “We look at every little functional area and come up with a total cubic yards generated per week.” Those numbers are broken out by room or campus and then by organic waste versus recyclables and non-recyclables, hazardous waste, etc.
It's important, also to research local codes and any state mandates around waste management when developing a waste plan. Noting how often or what’s needed for pickups by third-party haulers is important as well.
Make Space for Waste Management
“Protect the space.” That’s the name of the game when it comes to waste management, at least for Sorgent and his team. Part of the calculations he does in waste estimates include how many bins and collection units are necessary and if there is or should be a waste collection area near docks. “That gives us our space and equipment program,” he says. “We have to look at material handling and make sure everything can get routed to the dock.”
If you’re making space in a kitchen, you need to make space for organic and recycling collection units. And there needs to be space for those carved out in bathrooms, pantries, dry storage and “kitchen adjacent” facilities. If you want to invest in one of those newer model on-site composters, you’ll need to carve out space for that, too, Sorgent notes.
“We're the protectors of the waste room — we say how much there should be and protect that space. And we make sure that it has all the proper utilities, spot connections, make sure it works in the docks and track internal material handling both horizontally and vertically with the elevators,” Sorgent says. “I’d say probably just in the last five years, this has become a huge deal for companies and architects.” If we’re following a trickle-down theory, that means good kitchen design needs to address waste management.