Rising sustainability trends in the food service industry have left many greenies wondering: Are zero-waste restaurants possible?
Darden Restaurants, which includes popular eateries such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze, is out to prove that while low-impact ambitions are challenging in the industry, going zero-waste is still an achievable goal.
Since 2009, the company has been putting programs in place to one day send zero waste to landfills, including a company-wide cooking oil recycling program that has collected millions of gallons of used oil. Launched in 2010, the program reclaims 100 percent of the used cooking oil from Darden's 2,000 restaurants - for a total of about 5 million pounds per year.
With biofuel markets on the rise, Darden is able to carry out the program at no cost and actually receives a small annual rebate for selling its oil to make new products.
"We use our fry oil for a host of different things," Brandon Tidwell, sustainability manager for Darden Restaurants, told Earth911. "A good bit of it goes to biofuel and biodiesels. Some of it is used for soaps and cosmetics, and some of it goes for animal feed."
Thanks, in part, to its successful cooking oil recycling program, Darden increased its enterprise-wide landfill diversion rate by 14 percent from 2008 to 2011, representing a total volume of more than 140,000 cubic yards of landfill space.
It's all part of Darden's ongoing efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its eateries. A year before releasing its zero-waste aspirations, the company announced plans to reduce water and energy use by 15 percent per-restaurant in seven years. It has already surpassed its water conservation goals, about four years ahead of schedule, and is more than halfway toward reaching its energy efficiency ambitions.
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