Calgary restaurants eager to keep food waste out of landfills under new bylaw

Composting has barely disrupted the flow of business at Nick's Steakhouse in northwest Calgary, but it's made an impact in the amount of garbage the restaurant sends to the landfill, its founder says.

Composting bylaw impacts approximately 80,000 local businesses

As of Nov. 1, all multi-family residences, business and organizations in Calgary are required to have organic composting services. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

The namesake of Nick's Steakhouse in northwest Calgary says composting has barely disrupted the flow at the long-running business, but it's made a big impact in the amount of garbage the restaurant sends to the landfill.

The restaurant founded by Nick Petros is one of approximately 80,000 businesses and organizations impacted by a new composting bylaw that took effect on Nov. 1.

The bylaw requires businesses to divert food and yard waste from the garbage to be composted; place signage on containers for garbage, recycling and composting; and provide education for employees.

Nick Petros, founder of Nick's Steakhouse, has been in the restaurant business nearly 40 years. He says he's happy to do his part for the environment by composting. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

In 2016, the city estimated that nearly 53,000 metric tonnes of food and yard waste was sent to the landfill from businesses and organizations. 

Now that waste will be diverted to private processing facilities that will turn it into organic fertilizers for Canadian farms. 

"I think it's very good because we've all got to get smart and think about the environment," Petros told CBC News. 

Staff at Nick's Steakhouse in Calgary compost food waste. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Lauren Minuk, public program coordinator with waste and recycling services for the city, said a survey conducted in the fall found that 58 per cent of businesses were already complying with the bylaw before it was mandatory. 

"It's generally been pretty well-received," Minuk said. 

"In a lot of cases there's a bit of an adjustment period. It might take people a few weeks to get used to putting their apple core in the compost instead of the garbage, but once they get used to it, it's not a lot of extra effort or extra time."

Lauren Minuk is the public program coordinator with waste and recycling services for the City of Calgary. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

The program is not only environmentally-friendly, Minuk said, but it's also not expected to impact restaurants' bottom lines. 

"One of the really neat things about this for restaurants and food service businesses is that they have a unique opportunity to keep more material out of the landfill and that may make them more likely to find that the program is cost-neutral because they may be able to decrease the amount of garbage pickups as a result."

The decrease in garbage is certainly something Petros, and his sous-chef Anthony Lam, have noticed.

"If you put everything in one bin, within two or three days it's full. Now, every three or four days they pick up the garbage, every four or five they pick up the recycling, and for the food [waste], they come once a week. So it helps to keep the environment clean," Petros said. 

Dramatic increase in demand 

BluPlanet Recycling is one of the private companies that's providing green bin pickup services for organizations.

"Every day we're fully booked now,... so we haven't really hit a lull yet," said Nelson Berlin, business development manager at BluPlanet, in an interview with CBC News. 

Berlin said his company has had to significantly increase the number of staff and vehicles to keep up with the demand. 

Nelson Berlin's company, BluPlanet Recycling, has been busy since the city's new composting bylaw was announced. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

He said the biggest success has been with restaurants, with some filling up as many as 16 green bins per week.

"There's always people who are resistant, but we're so busy with people who are excited and positive about the program that we haven't really heard anything from that side," he said.

"Removing compost from the landfills is the most significant thing we can do to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions coming from our landfills. If you're not doing that, then you're not contributing to that collaborative effort to reduce those emissions."

The city is focusing on an education-first system, and will rely on 311 complaints to identify organizations that aren't complying with the bylaw. 

Organizations that don't comply could be fined $250. 

People interested in learning more about the program can visit the city's website

With files from Jennifer Lee