Claudia Pingatore formerly worked with Contra Costa County’s Green Business certification Program, where she helped hundreds of businesses prevent pollution and conserve resources. She continues that work now, as a recent addition to the FSTC team, by helping to maintain the FSTC’s green certification. If you have questions about preventing pollution or being green, feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you’re already on top of these things, consider becoming certified as a Green Business!
The environmentally responsible restauranteur looks at how to be energy efficient, use less water and generate less waste. But one area of sustainability is often overlooked—pollution prevention. From the farm to the fork and down the drain, the effects add up across the roughly 100,000 commercial kitchens in California alone (not to mention our home kitchens!). While there is a week dedicated to pollution prevention (Sept 21-27), we at the FSTC believe that every week should be pollution prevention week! Let’s discuss some simple ways to incorporate pollution prevention into your routine.
Implement Regular Cleaning of Grease Traps/Interceptors
Our water treatment plants have only so much capability. Pollutants can bypass treatment systems, especially synthetic chemicals for which the systems aren’t designed. In addition, blocked piping due to FOG (Fats, Oil & Grease) can lead to sewer back-ups causing risky, acute pollution within your facility (not to mention a total operational shut down and the costs and bad PR resulting from it). These risks are best managed by regular cleaning of grease traps/interceptors. Of course that is why our local compliance agencies require it!
Only Rain Down the [Storm] Drain
Stormwater is not treated at all before entering our waterways, so even seemingly harmless substances like ‘biodegradable’ soaps can have cumulatively negative effects (remember, soil acts as nature’s filter; however, storm drains go straight to the bay with no filtration – man-made or natural). When washing floor mats or other equipment, do so at a sink or other wash down areas that drain to the sewer. If you wash down your parking lot, use a BASMAA certified cleaner since they are trained in proper collection and disposal of dirty water.
Use Certified Green Cleaning Products
The varied and relatively unregulated chemical constituents in cleaners, coupled with their daily use, create a significant chemical load down our drains, or worse, in our dining environments. But not all chemicals are created equal: ‘Green’ cleaning products are sold everywhere from supermarkets to distributors such as EcoLab. To avoid ‘Greenwashing’ – or unsubstantiated green claims, an unfair and not uncommon practice among these products – purchase products with third-party certifications such as Green Seal. Other resources for responsible purchasing include EPA’s Safer Choice and San Francisco’s approved product list. A cleaning product can be green without a certification, however you’ll likely have a hard time making that determination without a toxicologist by your side.
Employee engagement is very important. Enable them to purchase the right products, by making an ‘approved list’. Make sure they know how to use the products as well to avoid waste and unnecessary chemical exposure.
Prevent Pest Problems with Good Housekeeping, Hire a Certified Green PCO When Necessary
Traditional pest control involves the use of harsh chemicals and often involves outdoor perimeter spraying which can pollute the environment). Prevention is always the ideal approach. Keeping food sealed and clean – whether in the kitchen or the trash area – is a low-cost and chemical-free way to avoid pest problems. When you see a pest, try locating the entry point and simply blocking or caulking it closed. If this is not effective, hire a pest control operator (PCO) that is knowledgeable on these principles and applies less toxic products only where needed. Look for certifications such as EcoWise, GreenPro, and Green Shield.
Buy Local and Organic Food
So far we’ve talked about site-specific actions, but as we all know the foodservice industry has far reaching effects beyond the restaurant itself. Where that food comes from and how it is grown is a huge part of pollution prevention and overall sustainability since fertilizers and pesticides are major sources of pollution in California. This is one reason why organic agriculture is such a big deal. Alongside other practices such as maintaining crop diversity and soil integrity, organic agriculture ultimately reduces the need for added chemicals by restoring ecosystem health. As always, buying certified organic products protects you (and the responsible farmers) from greenwashing.
You may be thinking, “With all I have to manage in my restaurant, I don’t need any more on my plate!” But as often is the case with positive change, a little upfront effort goes a long way. After all, most of these pollution prevention measures come down to awareness and simple protocol or purchasing changes. Still, seeking 3rd party certifications is a recurring theme here in part because it takes out the guesswork, making it easy to be green.
Why practice pollution prevention for a week when you can incorporate it into your overall “green” strategy? Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” -Benjamin Franklin.