Food for thought: Diverting restaurant scraps away from landfills

With 12 million visitors a year, Niagara Falls is one of Canada’s top travel destinations. That’s a lot of hungry tourists ordering a lot of meals at a lot of restaurants.

But when these eateries clean the tables and scrape the plates, how many compost their food waste rather than send it off to landfills with the trash?

Green thesis: Gwen Gilbank researched how many Niagara Falls restaurants compost their organic waste.

Green thesis: Gwen Gilbank researched how many Niagara Falls restaurants compost their organic waste.

Brock University student Gwen Gilbank wanted to find out, and made this the focus of her undergraduate thesis.

Gilbank, a fourth-year honours student majoring in Brock’s Tourism and Environment program, surveyed 23 full-service restaurants in Niagara Falls this past winter to see how they approach waste removal and how their managers perceive the concept of composting.

Based on her representative sample of the sector, Gilbank’s results suggest that many or most restaurants do not compost organic waste, adding tons to the truckloads of trash that get dumped in landfills. In fact, most restaurant managers told her that compostable waste accounts for at least half of the trash they produce.

Gilbank’s research found that some restaurateurs are wary of the cost of composting:

  • More than half of respondents assumed composting would be more expensive than their current disposal methods.
  • As well, most respondents did not feel the necessary facilities exist to handle composting on the scale that restaurants would require.

But despite these misgivings, there was general support for the principle of going green.

  • Every respondent agreed composting significantly benefits the environment.
  • Almost all said their staffs would use composting bins if they were available.
  • And respondents who do not currently have a composting program overwhelmingly indicated they would be willing to consider implementing one.

Gilbank’s interest is no doubt piqued by her future aspirations (she wants to pursue a career in environmental management) as well as her past (working in restaurants throughout high school and university).

“I worked at a pizza place for several years, and saw so many garbage bags being filled with organic waste,” she said. “So much of that could have been diverted with a basic composting program.”

With her composting thesis and exams done for the year, Gilbank will now be heading off to her summer job – as a server at a Muskoka resort.

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