ANNAPOLIS — There’s no such thing as taking out the trash at Harry Browne’s.
The restaurant has shifted operations so that the staff only knows of two bins — recycling and composting. The recycling — cardboard, glass, plastic — goes out weekly with the city’s collection. The rest — fish bones, leftover vegetables, potato skins — is sent to a Harford County company for composting. Veterans Composting then turns the trash into garden soil which can be sold to farmers, gardeners and landscapers. The restaurant has a sample of the soil, which will be used to grow flowers there this spring.
It has been a partnership that has gone on for about a month. Owner Rusty Romo could not provide cost savings data, but said he has been saving thousands of dollars by using this service instead of paying for trash pickup. He plans to write state officials to see if the business could qualify for any type of tax credit because the business no longer adds to the landfill.
“We don’t send anything to the landfill anymore; we’re completely free of any trash collection,” Romo said. “This is less expensive than having regular trash pickup. I have four children, and I don’t want to leave them a mess. And we wanted to be a more environmentally friendly restaurant. If a restaurant of our size — about 250 seats — could do it, just about anybody could do it.”
In 2010, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash, but recycled and composted nearly 85 million tons of this material, the most recent statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show. Locally, there have been several efforts launched to help residents and business owners to think about the environment. This summer, the county’s Department of Public Works will switch from twice-weekly curbside trash collection to a weekly collection. Currently, there are two pickups a week, one day is designated for trash and one is for trash and recyclables. The county’s recycling advisory committee previously recommended the switch, adding that this could push the county closer to its 50 percent recycling goal. Now, about 40 percent of curbside material is sent to recycling.
In 2009, the city began a free certification program for environmentally friendly businesses. This designation gives the businesses bragging rights, but also promotion through the Downtown Annapolis Partnership, which encourages people to shop at local businesses. The list includes Rich Morton Lincoln Mercury of Annapolis, which uses a waste oil furnace to heat buildings in the winter; the Georgian House Bed and Breakfast for its use of biodegradable cleaning products and the Loews Hotel restaurant Breeze, which donates leftover food to soup kitchen. There are nearly 30 businesses on the list.
Based in Aberdeen, Veterans Composting provides its composting bins to partnered businesses at a flat rate, which can depend on the business. Owner and founder Justen Garrity then returns two days a week — three in the summer — to empty the bins. The garbage is then taken to a farm, where it is mixed in with other materials and heated up to 140 degrees. At that temperature, pathogens are killed and the final product, the soil, is safe to use, Garrity said. He declined to say how much the service costs Harry Browne’s. Garrity is trying to expand into other Annapolis restaurants and is in talks to launch a similar effort at Galway Bay.
“In Harford County, there’s a lot of chain restaurants and it’s hard to find the decision maker on the trash collection,” Garrity said. “Annapolis is a great, progressive city. I like being in Annapolis. There’s a lot of wonderful independent restaurants and a lot understand the value of sustainability and the impact on the bay. Consumers and restaurant goers appreciate the effort. It not only make sense financially for other restaurants to say ‘we don’t throw anything out,’ but it speaks a lot to the (desires) of restaurant owners in Annapolis.”
At Harry Browne’s, the six composting bins can contain up to 1,200 pounds a week. Garrity comes on Tuesday and Friday mornings. This effort also helped Romo notice other ways the restaurant could cut back. He recently bought a cardboard baler, which will compress their boxes into blocks that are easier for the recycling center. The restaurant also substituted plastic straws for cornstarch ones.
“I bet we covered an acre’s worth of land in Millersville with the amount of trash we produced,” Romo said, adding that he was impressed with how trash can be transformed. He picked up a soup can from a recycling bin. “This might be tomorrow’s Honda Accord.”