Since opening its first food cart in 2003, The Skinny Pancake has been on a mission to reduce the amount of resources being sent to our landfill. And in December of 2018, that mission led them to winning the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Food Recovery Challenge.
“It’s all about community collaboration. We never want to act independently from our community.”Brittany Sperber, Skinny Pancake
The EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge recognizes businesses and organizations for their outstanding efforts and leadership to prevent and divert food waste and promote the sustainable management of food.
The Skinny Pancake has always been committed to reducing their trash through basic efforts like recycling, reducing plastic consumption, and more. But when Act 148 (Vermont’s Universal Recycling and Composting Law) was established by Vermont Legislature in 2012, awareness raised around composting led them to begin making a more zero-waste effort.
In 2016, they decided to actually track the amount of trash, recycling, and compost that they were producing. They contacted their haulers and recorded the weight of each that they were sending out. Their impressive results led to their 2018 award.
We were able to speak with Skinny Pancake’s Community Engagement Manager, Brittany Sperber, on what behaviors we could all learn from their zero-waste efforts.
What you can learn
Not every business or institution might have the time or resources to track data to be able submit for certain awards like The Skinny Pancake; however, there are simple things we can all keep in mind to make an impact.
- Reduce > everything else
Vermont’s Food Recovery Hierarchy shows that source reduction should always be first. The Skinny Pancake never orders too much of one item at one time. “We’d rather be out of something once in a while, than always having something but also throwing food away,” said Brittany.
- Reuse whenever you can
The Skinny Pancake incentivizes reuse by allowing their customers to use a reusable coffee mug for cheaper coffee. “We also encourage people to stick around and dine with us and use reusable products,” said Brittany. Even though their to-go containers are all compostable, they are aware that people go home with it, where it can just end up in their trash anyway.
- Practice what you preach
With over 200 staff members, The Skinny Pancake had to take a hard look at if they were really walking the talk within their own company. “Employees were using thousands of cups throughout shifts, and even though they were compostable cups, they still had to be processed,” said Brittany. They found an easy alternative was to buy all staff members reusable hot and cold cups. It was just a simple act that ended up saving money and reducing the amount that goes into the waste stream.
- Open communication
“We brought in the top managers to conduct a meeting, and answered the hard questions, because it can be confusing. We had a long conversation about how things get contaminated in the waste stream,” said Brittany. “Getting people in the room to just have open discussion and conversation really is key, and if you don’t have that, it can be the blind leading the blind.”
- It takes a village
Good practices come from everybody on board: employees, customers, upper management, farmers, friends and family, community partners, legislative bodies and everyone else along the way. Include and collaborate with as many people as possible for the most impact.
- Never stop improving
“I don’t look at this as us being good, so now it’s back business as usual,” said Brittany. “We are still looking at ways to drop those trash numbers and increase our compost numbers. With everything that’s going on in our oceans and with Vermont’s single landfill in Coventry, there’s always more that can be done. It’s not an end goal; it’s a process and we’re still working on it.”
At CSWD, we have Outreach Coordinators that specialize in helping businesses, events, schools, and communities/municipalities. Give our hotline a call at (802) 872-8111 with any questions or ideas. We’re always happy to help discuss ways we can help you to reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, and more.