Restaurants, patrons lead the way on recycling

San Diego’s restaurant community — which runs the gamut from small taquerias to fine-dining establishments — is committed to being a good steward of our neighborhood and city environment. We see ourselves as San Diegans’ extended family; we welcome you into our dining rooms and kitchens to celebrate milestone events and enjoy time with your loved ones.

That is why we are always finding new ways to improve the quality of life for San Diegans — whether it’s by conserving water, donating to food banks or enrolling in composting programs. It’s also a great opportunity to remember ways to conserve, recycle and reduce waste — efforts that will make our community an even better place to live.

One simple way to make a difference is to learn about the many products that can be recycled in San Diego County. The easiest and most convenient way to make a positive change is by understanding exactly what can be recycled, whether at a restaurant or at home.

Some of the most common products recycled at restaurants are glass wine and beer bottles. But even though most people are aware of the recyclability of glass, they don’t always remember to rinse out all the food remnants — meaning glass thrown in the recycling bin might not actually get recycled. Soda bottles and cans, and plastic soup containers — anything marked #1 through #7 or labeled “CA Redemption Value” — can also be recycled at home.

When dining out, restaurant patrons see most servers carrying around paper notepads to make sure they get orders correct. These mixed paper products — as well as the receipts and the takeout menus often attached with to-go orders — should all be recycled.

Across San Diego, virtually all types of clean and dry paper, including writing paper, computer paper, brochures, magazines, junk mail and phone books are accepted for recycling. Even paper items that have staples, window envelopes and legal envelopes with metal clasps are all accepted.

One product that often confuses restaurant patrons, however, is beverage cups. Unfortunately, waxed soda cups must be thrown in the trash with other non-recyclable products. However, foam cups with the #6 recycling symbol (sometimes mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam) can be rinsed and recycled — often in curbside bins along with other plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers.

The same is true for foam takeout containers with the #6 recycling symbol. In fact, there are 24 communities in San Diego County alone that accept foam in their residential recycling bins, and five communities that have a foam drop-off location.

These are just a few items that San Diego restaurants and residents are recycling every day; but there are so many more products that can — and should — be recycled. Every community has slightly different recycling programs, so it’s important for restaurant patrons to check with their city recycler to see what they accept.

Recycling, however, is far from the only way restaurant patrons can make strides to keep waste out of our landfill; there are many small steps that, taken together, can make a giant difference. Probably the easiest is to ask for only what you will use. That goes for napkins, extra salsa or bread and, especially in the midst of California’s drought, drinking water.

Customers can also help reduce waste by turning down any disposable utensils or plates when taking food to-go and instead using regular silverware at home.

Restaurants and our customers alike all have a role to play in reducing waste and protecting our environment. It’s our responsibility to learn what can and cannot be recycled in our neighborhoods, either at the curb or a drop-off location, and to renew our commitment to recycling and reducing waste.

Duggan is director of local government affairs in San Diego for the California Restaurant Association.

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