Fast garbage | Environment | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Fast garbage

The law requires restaurants to compost organic waste, but local fast food chains are failing to comply.

You've just finished your Big Mac. Like any conscientious consumer, you separate your waste and recycling before heading out. Feel like you've done your part for the environment? Those leftovers you put in the recycling might end up in the landfill.

Some fast food restaurants in Halifax, such as McDonald's and KFC, are not recycling their organic waste section, violating Nova Scotia's Environment Act.

According to workers, restaurants either have no intention of recycling or only recycle when bins have not been contaminated with improper materials, which one worker says happens "95 percent" of the time.

"In the back it's all separated in different" sections, says Virginia Raftus, manager of the KFC on Quinpool Road, who starts speaking of the food preparation area when asked about not sorting in the storefront. She says they sort through the recycling twice daily.

Her employee, Dylan, says differently. (Restaurant employees' names have been changed.) "At this point it's the same bags," he says. "We don't have a different bin for the compost. We have a green bin for [compost out back] but for the garbage and stuff [out front] it just goes in the same spot."

Quinpool McDonald's is still using different bags, but "if one piece of garbage is in with the other stuff, we're just supposed to throw it in the dumpster," says Kurt.

Kurt's manager, who declines to give her name, denies these claims, saying that the restaurant recycles twice daily.

Dylan says KFC sorts the waste in its kitchens, but doesn't sort garbage that consumers generate in the storefront. That's illegal under Nova Scotia's Environment Act, says Cindie Smith, acting manager of education for the Resource Recovery Fund Board. "These are materials which are banned from disposal in any Nova Scotia landfill regardless of where it originates."

Can fast food restaurants throw out compostable items, even if it's just from the front section? "Absolutely not," answers Smith.

The act states "(a) business or operation shall provide receptacles for litter and receptacles for recyclable materials in appropriate and easily accessible locations, and shall service, maintain and empty the receptacles."

The act also provides a list of materials banned from deposit sites, including compostable organic material and newsprint, meaning putting any compostable material in waste is against the law.

In Canada, KFC is owned by Yum Restaurants. Spokesperson Deb Quinn says that recycling within stores is still in its testing stages. Yum is "currently piloting a number of waste reduction programs across Canada and we'll be evaluating which ones are the most effective over the next few months."

McDonald's refused to be interviewed.

Dylan says the real issue is that customers "just don't care" about their waste, making sorting the organics section impossible.

But many customers do care, and feel their efforts to sort are going unappreciated.

"So what's the point of having an organics section?" asks environment student Nicole Dugandzic, who always sorts.

Jill Langeigne, a cook at Salty's, is frustrated some restaurants aren't sorting. She also thinks "organics" bins have an ulterior motive. "They're capitalizing on the whole 'We seem to be green and eco, but we don't actually care' thing," says Lanteigne, who adds at Salty's, "We actually do compost everything. I think it is a responsibility of owners to comply with that kind of stuff."

Rob Hamilton eats out four times a week and doesn't blame fast food employees for not sorting. "If you get hired as a janitor, you know you're a janitor," he explains. "If you get hired to work cashier at a fast food place, then you won't know that it's also up to you to pick through garbage. Are you going to do that for minimum wage? I know I wouldn't."

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