50,000 pounds. That’s the average amount of garbage a single restaurant produces every year.
What bugged Margot McNeeley more than that number, though, was another one: 95 percent of that waste could be prevented through recycling and composting.
In 2007, McNeeley got tired of hearing herself complain about the lack of recycling at Memphis, Tenn., restaurants, and she decided to embody that old adage: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” After talking with restaurant owners, she discovered that limited recycling wasn’t due to apathy, but to a lack of information and resources. “People wanted to do something,” McNeeley says, “but didn’t know what to do.” She created a pilot program to help restaurant owners convert their good intentions into action. Six years later, the pilot program is a full-time project, Project Green Fork, a mostly one-woman show that has helped 55 restaurants—and counting—go green.
When McNeeley starts working with a new restaurant, she helps the owner assess their current waste, identify how they can reduce that number, and estimate the potential savings that waste reduction will represent not just for the environment, but for their operational bottom line, too.
Lest you think all the restaurants that have bought into the green mission are like the vegetarian and vegan-friendly Fuel Cafe, or more upscale restaurants like Andrew Michael Kitchen, with its own garden, consider the Memphis institution, Rendezvous, the 65-year old downtown barbecue joint with more than 300 seats. The high-volume, eat-in, take-out operation is Project Green Fork-certified and has made substantial gains in recycling, a point of pride for McNeeley.
Below you’ll find a fresh and delicious Mediterranean Edamame Salad courtesy of Get Fresh Memphis, a Project Green Fork member
—Story by Julie Schwietert Collazo, a food writer in New York City.