I recently had the pleasure of attending the RFMA (Restaurant Facilities Management Association) Annual Conference 2023, in San Antonio, Texas.
At RFMA, I spoke on a panel about the organics recycling renaissance we have seen in recent years in the United States. Joined by Dawn Rhodes, Senior Program Lead, Sustainability at Chick-fil-A and Leslie Rodgers, Director of Sales and Marketing at Atlas Organics, our discussion addressed the current challenges to widespread adoption of organics recycling programs, explored what is currently being done to navigate them, and looked ahead at what can be expected in the years to come.
Barriers to Entry
One of the challenges we discussed was that in areas where organics programs are mandated, often there is insufficient infrastructure in place to handle the demand created by those mandates. In some cases, there is no infrastructure at all.
In these areas, generators must find unique solutions in order to stay compliant and achieve sustainability goals, and the required infrastructure often grows from the demands for such services. For example, individuals with a passion for composting and organics recycling have started doing local pickups from businesses, and eventually found that there is enough demand to create a commercial- or municipal-scale operation.
Leslie raised the point that in many cases restaurants want to implement an organics program, but they don’t know how to start the process and run the operation successfully. This creates an opportunity to educate business owners and their staff on the best practices of organics recycling and composting. She also noted that it is best for restaurants to “start small than not at all,” as even minor changes in the pursuit of sustainability are a step in the right direction.
Focus on Simplicity
Dawn added her recommendation that businesses focus on simplicity. If the process is made as easy as possible for people, such as graphics-led signage that catches peoples’ eyes and helps the memorization of acceptable materials, it is more likely to be successful.
Dawn also noted that restaurants can use smaller indoor collection containers that can be easily handled and washed by employees. Chick-fil-A, for example, repurposes the buckets in which their pickles are delivered and uses them as compost bins.
The panel agreed that communication is a key component of a successful organics program. Leslie advised businesses to provide feedback to haulers often, and haulers to do the same for their customers. Communication must go both ways throughout the process—Dawn stressed the importance of communicating with business owners and staff to educate them on the entire process, from generating less food waste in their own facilities to showing them the rich soil it creates when composted.
RFMA 2023 was an incredible event with industry professionals from around the country sharing stories, experiences, innovations, and ideas that are shaping the future of the restaurant industry. I had a wonderful time attending the event with my colleagues and connecting with peers who share a passion for sustainability. I’m already looking forward to RFMA 2024!
Ryan Cooper is Vice President of Circular Economy Solutions and Organics Lead at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.