Many of us may see the staggering amount of waste created by restaurants, and simply complain about it. Margot McNeely took giant steps to do more. “I was dining out at one of my favorite locally owned restaurants and watched them throw away piles and piles of recyclables,” says the native of Brookline, Massachusetts, who moved to Memphis in the early 1990s. “When I asked why they didn’t recycle, I was told the city didn’t offer that service for businesses. I got sick of hearing myself complain and decided to see what I could make happen.”
I n 2007, she met with Tsunami chef Ben Smith and his wife, Colleen Couch-Smith, to see how restaurants could reduce the garbage without hurting their bottom line. The result is Project GreenFork; its mission is to contribute to a sustainable Mid-South by helping reduce environmental impacts with a focus on strengthening local restaurants.
Today, 59 restaurants are certified by Project GreenFork, displaying the leafy symbol in their windows to signify their concern about the environment and the actions they’re taking. These actions include kitchen composting; recycling glass, metal, aluminum, and cardboard; using sustainable products and nontoxic cleaners; and taking necessary steps to reduce energy and water consumption. To remove the cardboard and glass from restaurants and to haul the composted food to community gardens, McNeely connected with Madeleine Edwards to set up Get Green Recycle Works.
At last count, 2,107,655 gallons of plastic, glass, and aluminum have been recycled, along with 1,813,281 pounds of paper and cardboard. Moreover, 254,401 gallons of food waste have been composted. Without McNeely’s determination, all those products would have wound up in a landfill. She appreciates the positive response to Project GreenFork, but adds that it’s not surprising: “Memphians are used to supporting initiatives aimed at making our city better.”
Bessie Vance Brooks
Martha Ellen Maxwell