How to Create a Sustainable Kitchen Environment

For a restaurant, waste disposal can be a costly, monthly expense. In 2011, restaurant owner, Justin Vrany of Sandwich Me In of Chicago made the choice to eliminate that cost from his operation entirely. With an industry that produces nearly 33 million tons of trash annually, his impressive efforts only begin to scratch the surface of a solution.

Aside from the massive space needed to store and process our heaps of garbage, the greenhouse gasses produced will impact many generations to come. It’s this reality that drove Vrany to take on the challenge. Interested in making the change yourself? See how Vrany reduced his waste to a single bag over two years.

How Sandwich Me In Went Zero Waste:

  • 1. Minimal packaging policy: Instead of accepting products packaged in traditional, excessive plastic or paper products, Vrany works with local farmers to deliver the products he purchases in just the necessary packaging for his product to arrive safely. No need for promotional materials, extra padding, or containers that end up in the trash. Consider working with your local farmers to incorporate reusable packaging like these Cambro food containers into your operation.
  • 2. Repurpose scraps: At Sandwich Me In, every purchase has a purpose. Take for example the whole chicken. Vrany utilizes the chicken in various meals, uses the bones to make broth, and even crisps the chicken skins for garnish in the chop salad. Not a single portion of the bird goes unused.
  • 3. Opt for sustainable energy credits: While this doesn’t necessarily contribute to the zero-waste goal within a restaurant, it does make a difference. In Vrany’s case, he purchases strictly wind and solar credits to power his business. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s site for more information on the impact you can make by purchasing clean energy credits.
  • 4. Create a community: This isn’t something you are going to be able to do on your own. It’s going to require intentional action from your customers, the community, and of course, yourself. Work with local farmers to provide scraps that can be repurposed for feed. Also, be sure to educate your customers about your programs so they can properly participate. If you are asking them to clear their plates, provide well-marked bins for proper separation of scraps.
  • 5. Hire a composting collection service: At this point, you should have little to no garbage disposal bill. Instead of paying for that traditional service, consider contracting with a composting service to collect leftover, organic material to turn to compost. Check for more information on a composting collection agency in your area.

  • For more information on zero-waste restaurants and moving your home or business in a more sustainable direction, follow along with our Zero-Waste series.

    Chelsea B. Sanz
    Chelsea B. Sanz

    Chelsea Sanz has lived in East Tennessee since her family moved here from South Florida just before she started high school. While she initially begrudged her new home state, she eventually realized she had come to not only love it, but to “bleed orange” as University of Tennessee Volunteers fans here like to say. She and her boyfriend Hunter, a trail worker for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoy exploring the nation’s most visited national park and coming up with their own farm-to-table recipes.

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