Behind the Ruggles Green restaurant on West Alabama, co-founder Federico Marques shows me the now wilting herbs which during the summer garnish customers' plates. Ruggles Green also composts all their food, and sets out 8 trash containers-only 1 of which goes to the landfill. The rest-about 70 percent of their waste-is recycled.
"So normally behind a restaurant you'd have this big dumpster, the back door is always open and they're always throwing out trash. And we don't do that."
These are just a few of the over 100 "green" initiatives at the restaurant. They use low flow washers, compact fluorescents, recycled paper in the menus and bamboo in staff uniforms. They recycle all of their fryer oil into biofuels. They've even instituted some common sense solutions.
"This is one of the most important switches in the restaurant. It's called the off switch. When you're not cooking, turn the hood off. That way you don't waste electricity, and you don't suck out all the air conditioned air."
Ruggles Green is certified by a non-profit called the Green Restaurant Association. Restaurants earn points for environmental initiatives, and are then awarded 2, 3 or 4 stars. This is Colleen Oteri of the GRA.
"The restaurant industry as a whole has as significant impact on the environment. They produce about 100,000 pounds of garbage per location per year. The restaurants are consuming a lot; they're using a lot of resources, and they're also getting rid of a lot of resources."
But going green is not easy. Though there can be cost savings, it's expensive up front, and it takes a lot of time and expertise to choose the right products, and to stay away from "greenwashed", or falsely advertised products. For a fee, GRA provides consulting to restaurants.
"Restaurants owners are extremely busy, they're trying to get good meal out on the table as quick as they can, and they don't have the time and the resources to try to figure out how to replace their cleaning products with non toxic versions"
Marques at Ruggles Green has a background in environmental projects, but even he had to try 14 different types of containers before he found one made of sugar cane waste to replace Styrofoam.
"It seemed like last year, when everybody started going green and getting really aware of it, is when our customers stared asking 'Why are you guys still using Styrofoam?"
At Niko Nikos on Montrose, manager Dimitri Fetokakis decided to "go green" on his own. He spent over a year researching products to replace his Styrofoam plates and cups. The ones he chose are biodegradable and cost double the price. But he says he feels a responsibility to his community-and to his young son:
"I'm educating myself now. Before, I never recycled. I'm doing that now at home, now that I have a kid it's a little different, you know, you start seeing things different?"
From the KUHF NewsLab, I'm Melissa Galvez.