Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This stinks

Restaurants have been blamed for many of the earth’s social ills, from obesity to litter to rendering family dinner obsolete. Now it’s being charged with hurting the earth itself.

A new study from Minnesota academics has concluded that restaurants are significant contributors to air pollution. The culprits are the smells given off by a sizzling steak or a baking loaf of bread, since what hits your nose are really little bits of food matter. If food and smoke particles were confetti, eateries would be a veritable non-stop New Year’s Eve celebration, the authors concluded.

Meanwhile, restaurants are drawing heat (and fines) for a clogging of the civic arteries. A number of locations from coast to coast are discovering their infrastructures can’t handle the industry’s output of FOG, the label they’ve given the industrial cholesterols of fat, oil and grease.

If you think that stinks, you’re absolutely right, say the critics. In places like Scottsdale, Ariz., a drainage backup turned an upscale shopping area into a place where sewage workers would hold their noses. Tightly.

Now the Phoenix suburb wants to keep the air smelling like a forest breeze by banning restaurant garbage disposals, which grind food scraps into a mush that can be rinsed down the drain. If the places can’t get rid of food waste that way, reason the proponents, the restaurants will find another way to dispose of their trimmings and plate scrapings. Pipes, air quality and a town’s effluent waters will be spared.

That’s hardly the lone solution to the issue. Other areas are taking the wrist-slap approach, fining places that clog the pipes, or sending them the Roto-Rooter bill for snaking out the muck.

Addressing the polluter accusations is something the industry needs to address from a centralized, 50,000-foot perspective. But the FOG issue should be seized as an opportunity to resolve two problems in one flush.

Ask any national chain about composting, or deflecting food scraps from the waste stream for use by agriculture or industry, and you’ll hear how difficult it is to take that greener course. The pertinent regulations are currently a hodgepodge, varying widely from haven to haven. Even if you can navigate the quagmire, there’s usually no infrastructure in place to handle the output.

They also lament that few areas are striving to create a system, much less a universal program that’d be the same from Maine to California.

Much has been reported in the last year or so about turning used fryer oil into biodiesel fuel, and that’s a real movement. But, as hotel chains readily attest, it’s still hard to put a reclamation program in place in some areas. In any case, the process has to be set up market by market, instead of plugging into a common network.

As the FOG issue continues to fester, the industry faces an opportunity to promote composting on a concerted basis. A botched effort would really be a stinker.

No comments: