Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill general manager Mike McCluney has to send multiple people to empty the trash, even though the can is only half full.
“Just food by itself is very dense and it is our protocol to make sure no one is injured,” he said.
The reason for the protocol is because Wood Ranch, and every other restaurant in Hazard Center, is part of a pilot program to implement the City of San Diego’s Commercial Food Waste Composting Program in shopping malls.
Food waste composting is not new to San Diego. The military was the first to participate in the program, followed by large commercial facilities such as the airport, hospitals, convention center, theme parks and grocery stores.
“The program has been on a voluntary basis until this year when CalRecycle passed a resolution that requires the diversion of food waste, yard waste and clean wood from commercial facilities in San Diego and yard waste and clean wood from multi-family facilities in San Diego,” said Ana Carvalho, environmental specialist from the City of San Diego’s Environmental Services Department. “So now that its mandatory, a lot of sites are looking for solutions for their materials and the Hazard Center mall contacted us.”
Hazard Center has seven of its eight restaurants participating in the program — Joe’s Crab Shack, Starbucks, Intermezzo Espresso Café, Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill, Which Wich Sandwiches, Smashburger and Yogurtland. The one remaining restaurant, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, is located on a separate pad and is responsible for their own trash and recycling.
In addition to the restaurants, the UltraStar Theater will also be the first movie theater to ever participate in the food waste compost program, Carvalho said.
“Achieving the seal of participation was no easy task,” said Lisa Gualco, Hazard Center’s general manager. “But our tenants were committed to doing their part to preserve the environment, and were able to not only meet but exceed expectations. We’re extremely proud of the work they’ve done.”
That work included several steps involving the city, mall management, restaurant management and employees.
The first step was to inform the restaurants about the program, what the requirements were, the anticipated timeline and to get them to support it, Gualco said. The restaurants were informed about the reasons for and the history behind the program and the new CalRecycle rules. Managers attended multiple workshops held by the City of San Diego.
The next step was to make sure all of the restaurants were currently recycling at least 50 percent of their waste — a requirement to enter into the food waste diversion program. Pre-inspections of each restaurant were conducted to determine how they were doing and assistance was offered to help the restaurants in improving their recycling efforts, if needed.
“We also took this time to discuss with the managers how this was going to impact each restaurant and possible ways to set it up,” Gualco said. “They needed to get their thinking caps on and discuss this with their team.”
The restaurants then trained their staff; purchased food waste containers and applied the required labeling for all trash containers; and created a process and policy for the food waste and recycling.
Each food service shop was required to participate in city inspections to ensure they met the 50 percent minimum recycling compliance and to ensure they were properly set up for the food waste program.
Carvalho conducted training that included restaurant managers and anyone who would be involved with the food waste, including bus-boys and cooks.
The final step was a probation period that consisted of inspection of three to four consecutive food waste loads to determine if they met the required purity of food waste.
“The implementation of the program relies a lot on the training of the participants and their understanding of how important this program is for the region and their participation in embracing it,” Carvalho said.
San Diego’s food waste composting program is considered one of the best in the United States and draw people from all around the world to study it, Carvalho said, because of the low amount of contamination it achieves — under 1 percent.
“There’s no paper allowed,” said Which Wich manager Tim Stinson. “There’s nothing else, just food — no plastic, none of that. We’re not even allowed to have a bag in the trash can.”
Stinson described the many training meetings with the city he and his staff had to attend for the program as “torture,” but also informative as to why food waste composting is beneficial.
“I think it is a very good program,” he said. “We live in a very dense city and we need to do everything we can to keep it clean.”
Other shopping centers that would like to participate in the food waste program will have to wait to do their part because there is limited capacity for how much food waste can be processed at the Miramar facility, Carvalho said. The city is looking for ways to expand capacity but there is already a waiting list for large, single-business facilities which are easier to implement than a mall with multiple food waste producers.
When the city does expand its capacity and more malls adopt the program that Hazard Center pioneered, Wood Ranch’s McCluney has some reassuring words for other restaurant managers who will add another protocol to their operations.
“It’s like anything else with business, once you get it up and running it’s as if it’s always been there,” he said.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.