Every Day is Earth Day at the Cafe
Carolyn Baer didn’t just recently get on the green bandwagon. On the contrary: you could say she’s been driving it to work for quite a while now.
“I’m that way at home; I’m just an avid recycler,” said Baer, director of Cheers Catering, Inc., the
company based at the Autry that also manages the Autry Cafe. “After being in this business long enough and seeing how much trash there is just from one event from one little company, it really is overwhelming to imagine.”
The Cafe will be one of the participants in the Autry’s first-ever Earth Day celebration, Sustainable Living in the West, on May 1.
So a few years ago, Baer began an initiative among her employees to encourage recycling. They put blue recycling containers out in the cafe and museum plaza, along with signs above them describing what items can be recycled. The employees also keep a keen eye out, ensuring recyclables stay out of the trash. Then, they take the load to a recycling center and put the money they earn into a kitty that gets split at the end of the year.
“It gives them a little incentive,” Baer said. “Every year, it’s like a fun little bonus in November.… It it really makes people participate. You’ll see them taking cans and bottles out of the trash.”
Baer says there’s very little at the in the way of non-food items that comes out of the Cafe that cannot be recycled or composted in some way: aluminum, glass, plastic, food waste, mountains of cardboard that, though they don’t fetch much money, get sent to the recycler anyway. About the only things Baer can’t put in that blue bin are the single-serving plasticized bags in which potato chips and other snacks are sold. She hopes that will change soon.
And for Baer, there’s not just recycling. There’s composting, too.
“We wanted to get into doing more because we have so much food waste,” she said. “It’s just unbelievable, even from just peeling fruit every day.”
She found out about a Department of Public Works program to encourage business composting of food waste. It allows her, for the price of an extra dumpster marked to collect food and organic waste, to hand over management of that issue to the city’s contractor, which provides special green food waste containers for the kitchen and collects the waste as often as necessary. According to the DWP, up to 76 percent of the waste from restaurants is organic and recyclable. What’s more, a single restaurant, on average, generates more than 50 tons of organic waste every year.
“I don’t know how they do this, but they basically compost, not just food waste, but meat and dairy,” she said of the program. “It’s really neat.”
A DWP information sheet on the program says cardboard products and milk cartons can also be included. Baer long ago had sought out a provider of biodegradable cardboard plates and cups for takeout containers. For events that require slightly more elegant disposable ware, she uses party plates out of bamboo.
“It was really hard at first,” Baer said. “When we first started getting the products they weren’t very good. Things were melting, it was difficult.… Since then now everybody is in on this bandwagon, which is wonderful. Dixie does it, everybody makes these compostable products.”