On becoming 100% compostable, for Terry Geracia

Medrad launches Earth Day composting program.

Earth Day brought special meaning at Pittsburgh-based Medrad. It meant the completion of a major initiative that implemented composting of pre- and post-consumer food waste and biodegradable serviceware throughout the company’s four Pittsburgh-area locations, all of which are working to become 100% compostable. Terry Geracia, executive chef for Parkhurst Dining Services at Medrad, spoke to FSD about the process and the how the Earth Day event capped it off.

Q. How did the idea to become 100% compostable come about?

Medrad had been kicking the idea around since they hired us in 2007. They had us do some proposals. Medrad currently diverts more than 80% of its Pittsburgh operation’s waste stream from landfills through its recycling program. They realized that the biggest opportunity for diverting more waste was in the foodservice facilities. Incorporating this composting program will allow Medrad to divert more than 90% of its waste stream from landfills.

Q. What are some of the steps you took to reach the client’s goal?

They gave us two months to get it going. They said they wanted the program to be ready to go by Earth Day. It was relatively easy for us since Parkhurst had resources available. Jamie Moore [the director of sourcing and sustainability for Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, of which Parkhurst is a member] really had everything laid out for us as far as spec products. We replaced all serviceware with eco-friendly products, including utensils made from potato starch and sugar cane, clear cups made from corn, and plates and takeout food containers made from various plant fibers. Other products such as straws, soufflé cups, soup containers, cold and hot beverage cups and napkins are made with recycled materials such as paper or cardboard.

We also started a pre- and post-consumer composting program. In the kitchen we now have separate cans for everything so the staff can separate pre-consumer food waste such as trimmings, fruit rinds and other food scraps. We’ve also asked the customers to sort through their own trash to capture the post-consumer waste. Medrad also gave our reusable mugs to customers so they can bring their mug down and fill it up for a reduced price. AgRecyle, our composting facility, provides two weekly collection services to each location. If something goes in the wrong can AgRecyle actually takes a picture of it and sends it back to us so we don’t do it again.

Q. What was involved with the Earth Day event?

Customers had the chance to participate in compost station demonstrations led by members of our team and AgRecycle. We also had a special menu that featured some local foods such as a BLT hoagie with fresh-roasted and carved turkey breast, house-cured/smoked apple hickory bacon, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese topped with a sundried tomato mayonnaise, and gnocchi tossed with grilled vegetables and local chicken made with locally made pasta. I also brought in a guest chef from Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pa., which does their own composting, so he sort of helped me out answering guest questions.

Q. What were some of the biggest challenges with the process?

Selling customers on the idea was our biggest challenge. Just letting them know that we aren’t doing this to inconvenience them. It’s actually Medrad’s goal as a company, and [Parkhurst] is trying to support them in becoming 100% compostable. We also have a lidded takeout container that is compostable that has a slight up charge. The customers weren’t real receptive to that. They’ve all, for the most part, been really receptive. We haven’t had too many problems with it overall. The customers’ biggest challenge is forgetting to bring their reusable cup down to the café.

Q. What advice would you give other operators who might want to do something similar?

It really wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. It seems like a big undertaking but in the long run even though the paper products are more expensive, we actually use way less now. We don’t make the big, lidded containers readily available. We put everything on a paper plate and make them ask for the takeout container. Don’t be intimidated.