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5 Ways Eataly is Greener than You’d Think

By Courtney Griffin

With an estimated 120,000 customers in their opening week and rave reviews for their food, Eataly Chicago, the Mario Batali-helmed mega-eatery, has been a runaway success. But with 63,000 square feet of food, food and more food, detractors have raised questions about Eataly’s commitment to the environment. Here are five ways that Eataly is using sustainable practices, along with some critical suggestions for how to take their green lifestyle to the next level.

1. They compost

bins

 

While recycling bins seem like a new introduction to most restaurants today, Eataly is already one step ahead. The eatery not only recycles, but they compost all plant-based food products, a process that turns the food into usable soil.

In a 2011 TED Talk, Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Food Safety and Sustainability at Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group (BBHG), says BBHG restaurant managers were a bit skeptical when she introduced the new initiative.

“[Managers] would say ‘I can barely get staff to not throw away silverware, how am I going to get them to compost?’” Meltz jokes.

But the initiative is no joking matter—Meltz’s innovative trifecta of waste disposal methods (pods of garbage, recycling and compost receptacles can be found all around Eataly) have reduced waste by nearly 50% in all BBHG restaurants. That translates to roughly 600,000 pounds of garbage annually that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.

How they can be greener: When several Eataly visitors and one employee were asked if they use the composting bins—none of them knew exactly how to use them. While the presence of the bins is a step in the right direction, using the bins is the only way to truly have an impact.

2. They actually use all of their food—yes, all of it.

pasta

 

Americans eat a lot of food every year, but that is nothing compared to the amount we throw out. In the United States alone, there is an estimated 47 billion pounds of food wasted in restaurants every year. So how does a place as massive as Eataly go about dealing with the pounds and pounds of food they have left over at the end of the day?

“We cook everything we don’t sell,” says Valeria Fanelli, PR Director of Eataly Chicago. Fanelli, a native of Rome, says the food will first be prepared and sold in their restaurants or served to employees in “family style” dinners. “Our chefs are always thinking of something new.”

Fanelli adds that any remaining or damaged items are donated to food banks.

As Meltz told Fast Company in June, using up all of their food not only makes sense for the environment, but for their chefs.

“A chef is naturally motivated to reduce food waste,” says Meltz.  “They don’t want to throw away food. They pay for food.”

How they can be greener: Portions are notoriously huge in Eataly’s restaurants, which causes more food waste. Less on the plate equals less in the trash.

3. Their food is locally sourced

apples

 

While there is a fair share of imported goods from Italy and beyond, Eataly Chicago makes a concerted effort to buy products from the Midwest when they’re available. This initiative is most apparent in the restaurant’s produce and dairy sections, where crisp red apples from Michigan and cheese from Wisconsin were prominently on display.

Other popular products, such as their mozzarella cheese, are made in-house with locally sourced ingredients. Artisans make the mozzarella cheese behind a glass case that allows passers-by to see (and smell!) the product being made. Fanelli says this transparency is beneficial for both Eataly and the customer.

“The more you know about the product, the more you want to try it,” Fanelli says.

Jennifer Grimmer, a 27-year-old Chicago native and Eataly regular, says she prefers Eataly’s produce to other stores in the area.

“They have really good herbs and consistently the best strawberries of any grocery store,” says Grimmer. While Grimmer was not aware of the local connections for many of the products, she said that was an added bonus.

How they can be greener:  Eataly pre-chops and packages some of their produce in plastic. While this may save customers some time, the pre-packaged items are costly to both the consumer and the environment.

packaged

 

4. They sell environmentally conscious products

 

bambu

Eataly’s spacious first floor includes a vast selection of kitchen utensils and containers from several different product lines. One of the brands prominently displayed is Bambu, which makes kitchen supplies from bamboo plants, the golden child of sustainable materials.

Eataly’s collection of Bambu products goes beyond simply silverware– they also have bowls, cutting boards and aprons from the brand.

The restaurants in Eataly also use sustainable products, including glass containers, paper to-go bags and menus printed on recyclable paper.

How they can be greener:  While Eataly carries an expansive collection of Bambu products, the sustainable supplies are far outnumbered by plastic products from other brands.

5. They have an actual olive tree!

olive tree

So it’s more of a display item than anything else, but the symbolic presence is just another reminder of Eataly’s commitment to sustainability. While the olive tree is real, it doesn’t actually produce any olives for the store.

How they can be greener: Grow actual plants! Del Posto, a restaurant that’s under the BBHG umbrella, has a fresh herb garden that grows products used in their dishes. Chicago has a number of successful rooftop gardens, so why not bring a little (plant) life to Eataly?

Do you have any suggestions about how Eataly can go green?

Watch this video to see Elizabeth Meltz’s 2011 Ted Talk about sustainability at BBHG

  • written by Courtney Griffin on October 9th, 2014
  • posted in Edit
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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.