GRAND RAPIDS — A recycling company hopes to help Kent County achieve its ambitious goal of diverting 90 percent of the county’s trash from landfills by 2030 by working directly with restaurants and grocers to reduce food and beverage waste.
Perfect Circle Recycling LLC’s primary business will be product destruction and recycling food and beverage products that are still in packaging, said Chief Operating Officer Todd Wilson. The company plans to partner with grocers, restaurants, breweries, schools and universities to help them reduce waste that otherwise would go to a landfill.
“Globally, diverting (waste) from landfills is where we need to go,” Wilson said. “Landfills continue to fill and get buried and we want to be on the front edge of being able to recycle what we can. It benefits the health of the community and provides jobs.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food waste is roughly 30-40 percent of the food supply, which in 2010 equated to about 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food. Food waste occurs at every stage of the supply chain from farms, transportation, retailers, and as a result of over-ordering.
Perfect Circle Recycling signed a lease on its 20,000-square-foot facility in April, located at 1739 Elizabeth Ave. NW. Machine delivery has been delayed due to COVID-19, but a packaging separator is expected to arrive in October, Wilson said. The company has let Spectrum Health take over its building in the interim until its machine arrives.
Once the company is fully operational, it will provide businesses with 64-gallon carts to collect organic food and beverage waste, which will be collected and processed by Perfect Circle, Wilson said. Any packaging will be consolidated and recycled so it can be put back into circulation.
From there, Wilson said the company intends to take liquid waste from the process to an anaerobic digester in Fremont to create renewable energy. The traditional way of doing things is to take food and beverage waste to a landfill or incinerator, which produces noxious fumes, Wilson explained.
Perfect Circle Recycling will also have the ability to decant and properly dispose of beer that has spoiled, Wilson said, which some breweries faced during the stay-home order.
“There are many progressive restaurants and breweries that want to run their businesses sustainably and what’s perceived as ecofriendly to their community,” Wilson said. “We will help them do that.”
Restaurants, breweries adapt
Because of the months-long dine-in shutdown, Brewery Vivant has had numerous kegs go bad, but none had to be dumped, said Kris Spaulding, who owns the Grand Rapids brewery with her husband, Jason Spaulding.
“Some styles are better at aging than others,” Spaulding said. “So yes, we lost some, but we have a way to get rid of it. We can give it to a distillery so they can turn it into a whiskey or hand sanitizer.”
Vivant’s canned beer sales have picked up, Spaulding said, but draft sales are still taking a hit with dine-in capacity capped at 50 percent.
The Mitten Brewing Co. fortunately did not have any beer go bad because of the shutdown, said brewery co-owner Chris Andrus.
“We’re small enough to be agile and nimble enough to make those changes,” Andrus said. “We’re definitely less profitable right now in many ways but the name of the game is to get to the other side of the pandemic.”
Both Mitten and Vivant scaled back their normal beer production over the past several months. For Mitten, beer volume is down about 60 percent.
Overall, COVID-19 has forced restaurants and bars to scale back and streamline operations where possible. For some, being less wasteful has become an even more essential business practice.
“We have pared down and engineered our menus during the pandemic in a fashion that eliminates virtually all food waste,” said Matt Dowdy, creative and marketing director for The Gilmore Collection in Grand Rapids. “In rare cases where we have product left over, we allow our hourly employees to take it home with them at no cost.”
Andrus and Spaulding said they are still using compostable containers for takeout orders, but with the steep increase in takeout, they understand why some restaurants are turning to cheaper options like styrofoam.
While still using compostable takeout containers, Spaulding said the brewery did switch to a container that costs less when it began serving takeout-only during the dine-in shutdown. And though Vivant maintains a sustainability focus, it and others in the food system have switched to more of a maintenance mode during the pandemic.
“Restaurants are balancing planet and profit, and in all honesty now we have to focus more on the prosperity and profitability side to make sure we’re able to do some of the cool stuff we haven’t been able to this year,” Spaulding said.
“So far we haven’t had to compromise our values at this point, and we’re grateful for that,” she added. “But at this point we’re in a survival mode to make sure we’re around this year.”
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