By John Schaffner

The Buckhead Coalition and Buckhead Life Restaurant Group are sponsoring a Zero Waste Zone for Buckhead — a recycling program among dining establishments to collect used grease for biofuel, convert discarded paper goods and feed the hungry with leftover food.

Green Foodservice Alliance Executive Director Holly Elmore, a Buckhead resident, outlined the cost-neutral Zero Waste Zone program to Buckhead restaurant owners and operators May 19 at a meeting at Atlanta Fish Market.

Elmore and Mary Beth Van Pelt of the Environmental Protection Agency told participants in the meeting that 82 percent of the materials dumped in landfills are recoverable products, such as paper, organics and plastics. The EPA says organic waste in landfills is the No. 1 source of man-made methane gas, a greenhouse gas 20 to 25 times more potent than naturally occurring carbon dioxide.

The Zero Waste Zone is designed to reduce the environmental impact of waste in homes, workplaces and the community. For now, the focus of the program is on Atlanta’s convention districts and food service operations.

The program can be considered a “civic health procedure,” according to Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell and Buckhead Life President Pano Karatassos.

On hand to nudge restaurants to participate was Buckhead resident and Zero Waste Zone chairwoman Laura Turner Seydel.

Restaurants within hotels have started signing up through the Buckhead Hotel Council, headed by Mit Amin.

Program participants are required to save spent grease for local production of biofuel, collect common recyclables for recycling and donate excess food to feed the hungry in compliance with Good Samaritan Food Donation legislation. Food preparation residuals that won’t work as food donations must be collected for composting where the option is available, and restaurants must participate in the EPA’s WasteWise Program and join the Green Foodservice Alliance through their Georgia Restaurant Association membership.

The program was introduced to intown Atlanta restaurants and hotels last year. Its participants include the Georgia World Congress Center, the Hyatt Regency, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Fifth Group Restaurants.

Fifth Group partner Steve Simon said: “Before Zero Waste Zone, we had an 8-yard Dumpster that was pulled three times per week. Our trash is now viewed as a raw material and collected by either a recycling or composting company. By following the zone criteria, Ecco no longer requires a Dumpster. We are excited to be Atlanta’s first Dumpster-free restaurant.”