S.L. County Health Department urges restaurants to go green
Servers and chefs at The Coventry home for seniors fill two buckets with potato peelings, melon rinds and bread heels: One for a supervisor's home compost heap and another for "the girls" her chickens.
Fryer oil at the Cottonwood Heights independent and assisted living center is recycled. So are cardboard boxes: Half goes to the recycling bins and the rest to the supervisor's wood-burning stove.
In Salt Lake City, Pago builds its menu around what local ranchers and growers are producing: from the Paisley Farms Pork Porterhouse to the Utah-owned Vida Tequila. It has low-flow toilets. And a waiter is recycling the restaurant's used wine bottles into Pago's new drinking glasses.
"This is one that's on the menu right now," says Pago owner Scott Evans, holding a drinking glass that was once the bottom half of a bottle. "It's a Walter Hansel Sauvignon Blanc."
The Salt Lake Valley Health Department wants to see more of the county's roughly 4,000 restaurants doing these types of green things, from reducing energy and water consumption and recycling to buying local products.
Despite looming budget cuts, the health department will launch a new Sustainable Restaurant initiative next year. During annual inspections, employees will look for health code violations as usual. But they'll also try to spy ways owners can reduce waste.
For those that strive to be green, the health department will promote them on their website and give them a sticker that says they are sustainable. Participating is free and voluntary.
Besides helping the environment, the move is meant to improve the image of the "cleanliness cops," says Monika Wyrzykowski, a health inspector leading the restaurant initiative.
When restaurant owners see inspectors at their door "some are automatically very mad because we're coming to see everything that's wrong. Yes, that's part of our job and we're still going to do that," she said. "But we want to focus on what they're doing right."
'We want to help' • Wyrzykowski said inspectors will initially focus on the "easy" fixes that should also save restaurant owners money.
When it comes to water, tips will include using low-flow water devices, fixing leaky faucets, xeriscaping, and waiting for patrons to ask for water instead of giving it automatically. Based on the need to later wash the glass, Wyrzykowski says it takes 5 gallons of water to provide the one cup of water to drink.
For energy, the inspectors will encourage the use of energy-efficient appliances and compact fluorescent light bulbs, unplugging unnecessary appliances and cleaning coils on refrigerators.
The department could expand to promote buying local products, recycling (to include glass and food scraps) and using biodegradable cleaning products. The initiative, which is not expected to add any costs to the health department, could even focus on other businesses it regulates, such as tanning salons and tattoo parlors.
The proposed program is far less rigorous than the standards set by the Green Restaurant Association, which certifies restaurants with a point system. To be labeled green, restaurants must take steps that include using programmable thermostats, insulating water heater tanks or using tankless units, using occupancy sensors for lighting, installing waterless urinals, going paperless for payroll, banning the use of polystyrene foam take-out containers and recycling paper products, grease, plastics and kitchen waste.
The association says an average restaurant uses 300,000 gallons of water a year, and they are the largest consumer of electricity in the commercial sector. The only certified restaurants in Utah belong to the Sweet Tomatoes restaurant chain.
The health department will not be certifying "for now," Wyrzykowski said.
"All we want to do is appreciate what people are doing. If mom and pop out there wants to do more in their restaurant and doesn't know where to start, we want to help them," she said.
Green leaders • The department will point to businesses such as Pago, Coventry and Squatters which buys local meat, fuels delivery trucks with bio-diesel made from kitchen oil and uses biodegradable paper drinking straws. Inspectors know they are more eco-friendly than others based on their annual inspections.
"It's not hard. It just takes a little bit more effort on somebody's part," said William Jones, executive chef at The Coventry. He credits his supervisor, Karen Merrill, for pushing the initiatives.
Pago owner Evans, 33, hopes more restaurants commit to sustainable practices, especially buying local. He hopes that will lead to more products he can buy. In the past several years he's already seen the number of local options jump, from produce to cheese, beef to chocolate.
Still, he said, "There is a cost of buying high-quality, local stuff."
Because Pago's menu is dependent on what's available, he changed the dinner line-up eight times last year. Instead of spending 2 cents an egg from a national chain, he spends a quarter for each local egg. Local, organic meat costs up to 25 percent more than organic meat raised elsewhere. That means entrees at Pago average $24 and starters $12.
And buying local is not as easy as purchasing from the main national vendors.
"We have 100 different people we buy from and we get 100 different invoices," Evans said. "It [would be] easier to make one phone call and get everything delivered to you at the same time."
Evans said the health department should plan to mete out stars based on how committed restaurants are to the cause.
Now that buying local and organic is trendy, "everybody's trying to take credit for it," he said, pointing to how some restaurants say they buy local "as much as possible" which could mean as little as 2 percent.
He said 70 percent to 90 percent of the vegetables on his menu are locally grown. The pasta is always local it's made with local flour. And many of the proteins are locally raised.
"I would like my guests to come in here and taste the difference, see the farmers delivering the food," he said.
Green in Salt Lake County
The Salt Lake Valley Health Department's Sustainable Restaurant initiative is an outgrowth of its "Green Business Initiative," which has highlighted 18 companies for practices ranging from recycling electronics to using biodegradable cleaners.
Lately, the program has been focusing on county-owned facilities, ensuring they have computer shut-down policies, use recycling paper for printing and recycle.
To see a list of the 18 businesses, go to http://bit.ly/tZ90fO