Partnership Promotes Partnerships at Bars, Restaurants in Erie Area
By DANA MASSING, Erie Times-News
Those bottles that your Budweiser and your Coors came in: Where do they go once the bartender or waitress whisks them away?
Into the trash at some Erie-area bars and restaurants. Then on to a landfill, to lie decomposing for about 4,000 years.
But a new incentive-based program called RecyclErie aims to sharply increase the glass, plastic, paper, aluminum, steel and cardboard being recycled by restaurants and bars here. The Erie County Recycling Program and the nonprofit Environment Erie formed RecyclErie.
Officials have eight establishments signed on since Feb. 1, and a similar number is in the works.
"I just love the fact we can recycle," said Bertrand Artigues, owner and executive chef at Bertrand's Bistro. "It's not any more money. It's a little bit of training for my help."
Bertrand's, 18 North Park Row, is one of Recycl Erie's "crew members."
RecyclErie officials aren't certain how many area bars and restaurants are already recycling, but they said it could be as low as 10 percent in downtown.
"Some are doing more than others," said Don Blakesley, recycling coordinator for Erie County.
State law and local ordinances in communities like the cities of Erie and Corry and the townships of Millcreek, Summit, Harborcreek and Fairview require recycling, according to information from Jessica James, program director for Environment Erie.
Artigues said his downtown Erie bistro recycles plastics, bottles, cans, paper and cardboard and even food scraps, which he uses in his home garden to grow herbs for the restaurant.
"It's so easy to do," he said.
He has one bin for garbage and another for recyclable items, and he said it takes employees maybe another step or two to put papers, plastics and similar items in the proper container.
Recycling might be law in some places, but it's also a choice Artigues said he makes.
"I'm about keeping the planet clean," he said.
Artigues said he thinks more bars and restaurants don't recycle because they aren't aware they're supposed to or how easy it can be. He said he doesn't think they're opposed to it.
A spring 2011 nationwide survey by the National Restaurant Association found that 65 percent of restaurateurs had a recycling program in place.
"There's just an education problem here," Blakesley said.
He believes RecyclErie will help. The program will teach businesses about recycling and give local restaurants and bars incentives to participate rather than trying to single out establishments for punishment, Blakesley said.
Enforcement of recycling ordinances has been rather lax around the county, possibly because of limited resources or because local leaders don't want to reprimand businesses on this issue, officials said.
Blakesley and James will help businesses determine what they should be recycling and how to start doing it. Training for employees also can be arranged.
The program provides participants with two indoor recycle bins. RecyclErie drink coasters deliver trivia, such as the one about the glass bottle thrown into the trash taking 4,000 years to decompose at Lake View Landfill.
Businesses also can get free publicity in RecyclErie ads and display window decals informing customers that "we make it our business to recycle."
The Brewerie at Union Station uses the coasters on its bar.
"It catches your eye and brings awareness to the consumer," owner Chris Sirianni said.
The National Restaurant Association survey revealed that 60 percent of consumers say they prefer to visit a restaurant that recycles, and 51 percent of consumers were willing to pay a little more for menu items at a restaurant that recycles.
But the price of recycling is what has some owners wary of the effort.
"We knew going in (that) if it would cost them, they wouldn't do it," Blakesley said.
Businesses that sign up with RecyclErie can receive discounts, such as a waiver on recycling startup fees with Waste Management, officials said.
Some establishments also find that disposing of recyclable trash costs less than other trash. James said that about 80 percent of a restaurant's waste could be recyclable, leaving just 20 percent going into the trash that costs more to have hauled away.
Some places have monthly savings up to $150, she said.
Sirianni said recycling hasn't been a money saver so far for his business.
The cost of having another large metal trash bin was a concern, he said. But he did the math and discovered that, with recycling, he'd need a smaller container for other waste.
"I think most people just didn't want to see an increase in cost," Sirianni said.
Space also can be an issue.
Brewerie, 123 W. 14th St., is fortunate that it has room for another Dumpster to hold recyclable items, Sirianni said. Some downtown businesses don't have that luxury, he said.
Sirianni said most of Brewerie's beer sales are draft rather than bottle. But the brewpub was already recycling materials like aluminum and plastic and will be adding cardboard in May after being approached by James.
"It just made sense," he said.
James and Blakesley said they've knocked on doors of about 25 bars and restaurants, most between the bayfront and 12th Street on both sides of State Street. They eventually want to reach out farther.
"It's a long-term project," he said.
No one has said they're not interested in recycling, and they like the incentives, Blakesley said. But he thinks the key to having the program succeed is approaching owners and managers in person and giving them information to help them start recycling, which can be good for the environment and business.
"All you need is to say 'yes,' and we're going to help you do it," he said.
Sirianni said recycling requires few additional steps and a little more training to get employees to put recyclables in the proper place.
"Once you start doing it, it becomes second nature, and I think you feel good about it," Sirianni said. "It's a good feeling in a world where we're raised to be green now."
DANA MASSING can be reached at 870-1729 or by e-mail.
Copyright 2012 The Erie Times-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.