ATL to get greener with switch to compostable utensils, plates

Filed in Concessions, News, Sustainability by on October 12, 2014

compostBy this time next year, finding a Styrofoam cup at Hartsfield-Jackson should be nearly impossible.

Under the Airport’s ambitious Sustainable Food Court Initiative, restaurant concessionaires are currently gearing up to meet their first target date: switching to compostable materials for such non-branded items like utensils, straws and napkins by Jan. 1.

Over the months to follow, both food vendors and retailers will be expected to phase out all non-compostable bags, cups plates and anything else likely to end up in an airport trash can. When the food court project is fully implemented, it will represent a big step forward in meeting Atlanta’s city-wide “Zero Waste” standards mandated for the year 2020, says Liza Milagro, Senior Sustainability Planner for the Airport.

The Jan. 1 deadline will require food-service concessionaires – either individually or acting together to buy in bulk – to phase out cutlery made from plastic in favor of biopolymers, plant-based resins that disintegrate in a compost medium.

The next deadline, sometime next year, will require all concessionaires to begin using degradable materials for branded food-service items and packaging. The options, some of which will be displayed at an ATL-hosted vendor fair on Oct. 22, include bamboo plates, bowls made from crushed leaves, clamshell boxes made from recycled envelopes and clear biopolymer cups. Concessionaires are free to select their preferred vendors and materials – as long as they meet the Airport’s composting standards, says Milagro.

The foundation for the sustainability plan dates to 2010, when the composting guidelines were written into the leases signed by all the incoming concessionaires. But the airport was forced to wait to implement its plan until this year, when a change in state permitting rules allowed for the creation of new composting facilities. Hartsfield-Jackson is planning to build its own, onsite composting plant by 2017, Milagro says, but will contract with a nearby facility in the meantime.

Currently, the Airport produces 19,000 tons of waste a year, more than half of which is food waste and food packaging – materials that, previously, had simply gone to the landfill. Having the ability to compost much of that waste will get the Airport closer to its ultimate goal of Zero Waste.

In addition to helping the environment, Milagro says the policy will do much to enhance Hartsfield-Jackson’s reputation with customers

“Travelers appreciate social responsibility,” she says. “They like airports that are green.”

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