Summit County restaurants divert food waste by joining compost program |

Summit County restaurants divert food waste by joining compost program

An employee at Downstairs at Eric's dumps collected food scraps into a dumpster. The food scraps will be composted.
Photo by Arthur Balluff / High Country Conservation Center

DILLON — In 2019, High Country Conservation Center dug through Summit County’s trash and determined that food waste and glass — two things that can be recycled — make up 26% of the county’s landfill waste. Local restaurants are now helping to divert that waste by setting up composting programs. 

With the help of a grant administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the High Country Conservation Center is offering assistance to restaurants that want to divert their food waste by providing supplies such as bins, buckets, labels and dollies as well as one-on-one training to help get the food scrap and glass recycling programs off the ground. 

Only food scraps are permitted in the composting bins because compostable plates or flatware don’t break down in Summit County’s cooler weather.

Conservation center Community Programs Director Rachel Zerowin said there are great examples of successful food scrap collection and recycling efforts in the area that fellow businesses can learn from.

“One thing to keep in mind for restaurants is that collecting food scraps is the first step to understand what is being wasted,” Zerowin said. “So when you know what you’re wasting, you can plan better, you can buy differently, and those are the things that are going to save you money.”

The conservation center also has a year-round sustainable business program called Resource Wise that is meant to help businesses in all aspects of sustainability.

“This is part of an ongoing evolution of increased waste diversion in our community,” Zerowin said.

Breckenridge restaurant Downstairs at Eric’s started composting in mid-December. Through August, the restaurant has composted about 55,000 pounds of food scraps that come from the dining room and kitchen. Owner Eric Mamula said the restaurant’s volume of trash is much smaller and that staff has adjusted to the change fairly easily. 

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High Country Conservation Center Community Programs Director Rachel Zerowin said the center hopes to have all composting participants confirmed by mid-October. Businesses that would like to participate should call 970-668-5703.

“It’s really easy,” Mamula said. “The problem is, it’s not cheap. … It’s just one of those things. You have to pay the money to have it picked up.”

Mamula explained that despite having less trash, the restaurant still pays the same amount of money for trash pickup because it uses town dumpsters. He said the financial aspect will have to be sorted out at some point so other downtown Breckenridge businesses are more incentivized to compost. 

“At some point, we’re going to have to figure out how to make this easier for everybody in town to do,” Mamula said. 

For now, Mamula said the incentive for Downstairs at Eric’s is simply to do the right thing for the planet. The restaurant’s compost bin holds about 1,000 pounds of food, which it can fill up to three times per week if the restaurant is busy. It costs $75 per pickup.

By looking at what is being composted, Mamula said the restaurant can determine what’s being overserved and, for example, cut down on certain portion sizes that are often left unfinished by guests.

In Frisco, HighSide Brewing just joined the composting world and hopes to inspire other area restaurants to do the same. Owner David Axelrod said the restaurant’s composting efforts have been fairly easy and that getting the program started was just a matter of logistics.

“Sustainability has always been a core goal of ours,” Axelrod said. “It actually is going to turn out to be financially cheaper than just throwing everything into a single stream. Getting it set up is the starting part, but then once you’re there, it should help you and your overall cost.”

The brewery will be able to decrease the size of its waste dumpster due to the composting program, reducing its costs. Axelrod added that composting is just one aspect of HighSide’s sustainability efforts: The brewery has upgraded appliances in the building for energy reduction and its spent grains from the brewing process are picked up by local farmers to be fed to cattle.

Summit Roll-Offs, a local waste management company that picks up food scraps for compost, currently serves about 40 composting customers in Summit County, including Downstairs at Eric’s and HighSide. The business has not been immune from the impacts of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, Summit Roll-Offs partner Erick Rostad said he had 50-60 compost customers. Despite that decline, Rostad said Summit Roll-Offs picked up 167 tons of compost last year and is on track to double that volume this year. 

Rostad noted that HighSide is Summit Roll-Offs only Frisco customer and that there are not any restaurant customers in Silverthorne or Dillon. 

“It’s a growing program,” Rostad said. “We are more than willing to take advice from people.”

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