Warewashing and recycling may be the least glamorous areas of foodservice operations, but together they play an integral role in sustainability programs. In fact, in some cases, the two functions are inextricably linked.
Sustainability is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of warewashing systems. From under-the-counter systems to large flight conveyors, they’re often viewed as energy draining, heat-emitting machines that consume a lot of chemical agents. In recent years, operators and manufacturers have been looking at ways a reduction in any one of these elements can deliver direct benefits on the others.
“There are several ways to accomplish warewashing sustainability,” says Gary Lee, director of Sales for MEIKO Canada in Toronto. “The three main areas for reduction are water, energy and chemicals.”
A key technology common to most new models is waste-air heat recovery, in which a system reuses the steam generated inside the machine to heat incoming water. The process lowers the amount of energy needed to heat cold water and eliminates the need to pre-heat water entering the machine. An added benefit is that capturing steam keeps heat from escaping into the warewashing area, reducing the energy demands on HVAC systems.
Another new idea in the heat-capture vein is drain-water energy recovery. In this scenario, hot water draining out of the wash tank is recaptured and used to heat cold water coming into the booster heater in the warewasher. Transferring the heat from the hot drain into the cold-water intake saves energy and reduces water consumption.
There are also automatic soil-removal systems designed to capture food and pump it to an external container. It’s a way to keep the water cleaner longer, reduce the number of water changes required and reduce front-end staffing needs.
Sam Govinda, senior design specialist with Russell Hendrix Foodservice Equipment in Calgary, says he’s seeing a number of trends on the warewashing front that relate to sustainability, including a shift to high-temperature systems. “In the past, a lot of res-taurateurs went with low-temperature warewashing systems, but they tend to be heavier on water and chemical usage.”
With a high-temper-ature machine, a built-in booster sanitizes the dishes at 180°F — eliminating the need for chemicals — and is a lot faster on the final rinse stage, he explains. “Even though you pay more up front, you get the energy, water and chemical savings in return, as well as a more environmentally friendly system.”
Today’s machines are also much quieter, he adds. “You used to have to move it away from the dining area, but they’re so quiet now you don’t have to.”
Noise was one of several issues for Frank Affonso, director of Property Operations, at the Kingbridge Conference Centre in King City, Ont., when he decided to replace two of his old warewashing systems with MEIKO flight machines at a cost of more than $120,000.
“There was the matter of age, as well as chemical and water usage,” he says. But one of the biggest factors was that the warewasher in the south wing was adjacent to a meeting room, he says. “It was so noisy it would interfere with any evening sessions being held there. Now you can barely hear it when it’s running. And the new machines also stay cool to the touch.”
Chemical usage was another concern. “We worked with Ecolab and ended up eliminating a rinse agent. Because the machines do such a good job, we don’t need it. Plus, we’re able to reduce water usage by around 20 to 25 per cent.”
David Higgins, vice-president of Finance and Administration for Higgins Event Rentals in Toronto, says he replaced his two flight machines two years ago with MEIKO models at a price of $60,000 each, including installation.
The biggest benefit for him was reducing chemical and water consumption and ensuring a spot-free finish. “I’d say we now use about 20-per-cent less water. And the dishes come out great. In our business you only have one chance to make a first impression. If you send out glassware with spots or lipstick that’s the kiss of death.”
FOOD WASTE REVISITED
Warewashing functions, particularly in larger establishments, tend to be the epicentres of food waste. But there’s much than can be done to ensure the volumes of food waste can be shrunk down to size.
Machines can be integrated with waste-pulping and dehydrating systems that reduce wash cycles, improve water quality and dramatically reduce the amount of food waste going to landfill.
Food-waste dehydrators can take food waste and reduce it by as much 80 per cent by volume and 85 per cent by weight, says Philip Beauvais, Market manager for Hobart Canada in Toronto. “At a bare minimum, you end up paying less for hauling away waste. You can dehydrate as much as 100 kg. in a 24-hour period and use more than one system in tandem for larger volumes.”
Operations can even go one step further, Lee says. “A lot of operations in Europe will reuse that food-waste material for fertilizer and biofuel. We’re not quite there yet in Canada, but we’re moving in that direction, so we can expect to see more applications for food waste.”
Recycling is more than taking care of the food waste being generated — operators are also amping up their waste and recycling efforts at the front end of their operations.
Govinda says many customers are moving towards full-scale recycling stations, using colour-coded labels and bins for separating bottles, newspaper, plastic, compost and waste. Keeping it all in order, however, needs special care. Instead of a server coming back and throwing things in the bin, some restaurants will have an extra dishwasher or busboy to help sort waste. “Food courts are often adding a full-time person to sort through trays at recycling stations where customers drop off their trays.”
Where composting is mandatory, customers have also transitioned to compostable takeout containers, forks, knives and cutlery, as well as paper straws.
Michael Oshman, CEO and founder of the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) in Boston cautions that while composting and recycling are becoming the norm rather than the exception, the key lies in making the right choice for your location. “If you’re using disposable containers, make sure you realize the environmental benefit. If you’re buying compostable takeout containers, but the building or consumers’ neighbourhood doesn’t have composting, then the benefit is never actualized.”
There are forward-thinking operations dispensing with disposables and transitioning back to cutlery and china. Govinda is working to do just that with Winnipeg’s True North Square Food Hall. “They’d rather invest in a dishwasher than disposables. It’s working well for them.”
Written by Denise Deveau