Four-course compost completes the food chain

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The Independent US

Some of the finest restaurants in California are turning award-winning food into compost. Haute cuisine is going green in a programme that benefits the farms and vineyards who supply the state's top eateries.

Some of the finest restaurants in California are turning award-winning food into compost. Haute cuisine is going green in a programme that benefits the farms and vineyards who supply the state's top eateries.

More than 2,200 restaurants and food businesses in San Francisco take part in the clean-plate, clean-environment project, which has become a model for food recycling.

Leftovers are deposited in green plastic cans and then converted into what is called Four Course Compost.

The result is less waste in landfills, lower rubbish pick-up costs, vibrant vines and vegetables - and a cheerful sense of completing a circle.

The food scraps come from some of the city's swishest restaurants, such as the highly regarded Jardiniere and Boulevard. "Now you have restaurateurs that are excited about sending nutrients back to the farms and vineyards. That's exciting stuff. That's role reversal," said Robert Reed of Norcal Waste Systems, the San Francisco-based producers of Four Course Compost.

"We love the programme," said Jonathan Cook, superviser of operations at the Metreon , an entertainment complex in San Francisco that has eight restaurants supplying compost.

He said: "It's increased the morale in the kitchens. People feel they're not throwing things out, they're doing something good for the environment while they're working."

Metreon restaurants are also saving about $1,600 (£900) in rubbish pickup fees every month, Mr Cook says.

"That is what is so absolutely cool about it," says Kate Krebs, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition. "Not only is a good, green environmental story, but it goes right to the bottom line."

Growers like the programme, too. "I think it's been fabulous," says Kathleen Inman, owner and winemaker at Inman Family Vineyards in Sonoma County. The organic compost makes for healthy green vines, and it is a kick to think of the soil's candlelit past, she says.

Californians throw away more than five million tons of food scraps each year, according to the state. That amounts to 16 per cent of all material going into landfills. While many cities are recycling bottles, cans and paper, food waste remains "the new frontier," Ms Krebs said When the San Francisco programme began, many people "kind of sat back and put their arms across their chest and said, 'Sure. Let's see how it will work in a city that has hills, that has little if any storage space. Let's see how it works."'

The programme has since expanded to restaurants in Oakland, while Los Angeles officials recently asked Norcal Waste to begin a pilot with restaurants there. And the Seattle City Council recently voted to start a residential food-scrap programme.

In Northern California, Norcal Waste subsidiaries collect the food scraps and other compostable material and turn it into nutrient-rich organic matter at a composting centre outside Vacaville, about 50 miles east of San Francisco. There, the table scraps are ground with cardboard, soiled paper and garden trimmings - the compost is about 50 per cent food - and pushed into bags, where it decomposes.

Sales of Four Course Compost have increased 23 per cent by volume in each of the past two fiscal years.

At the Metreon, Mr Cook is thinking about organising a wine-tasting of vintages grown with Four Course Compost. "It's closing the gap, throwing the food out and bringing it back with the grapes and drinking it again in the restaurant," he says. "It's pretty great."

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