Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:12:33 AM CST

Top Stories

Rose Zhou/MEDILL

Restaurant and tech company in food [waste] fight

by Rose Zhou
June 05, 2014


Rose Zhou/MEDILL

Justin Vraney, owner of Sandwich Me In, talks to customers.

Many a mother has complained about her children wasting food, and lots of Americans could use a good scolding. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the country ends up in landfills.

It’s a statistic that greatly bothers Justin Vraney, the owner of the Sandwich-Me-In restaurant in Lakeview. He’s making a daily effort to produce "zero waste," and he’s leading a conservation initiative among his fellow Chicago restaurants.

“A lot of people get confused with ‘no waste,’ [thinking] we have no waste at all, which is impossible Everyone makes waste,” said Vraney. “But the idea is either composting it, recycling it properly, or reusing it. That way it is diverted from the landfill.”

His restaurant strives to keep as little as possible from ending up in the dump. Vraney also believes in fresh food and local sourcing, finding as many ingredients as he can that is locally grown.

“The effort part goes into getting to know your local farmers, that’s huge,” Vraney said. “Most of our products [that] come into the state are from California or Mexico, they are three weeks to a month old. They have no taste.
“As soon as you start to give people these vegetables, or even meat that’s local, they can taste that,” he said.

While Vraney leads the way toward zero waste in Chicago, technology is helping other restaurants that want to lower their disposal costs.

Andrew Shakman, CEO and co-founder of LeanPath, said his company’s mobile app monitors food waste in two easy steps. After restaurant employees record every piece of food they throw away, the app analyzes the value of what’s been tossed in the trash.

“What we’ve found is that when you start tracking food waste, you can cut your pre-consumer waste in half,” Shakman said. “And you can save two to six percent on your food purchases.”

By making the price tag for food waste vivid and clear, Shakman believes restaurant owners will start to pay attention and shift their ways of doing business. Doing that, he says, would be a benefit for the environment, public health, and the bottom line.