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This Chicago restaurant produces zero waste

| May 8, 2014

In most cases, food waste and restaurants go hand-in-hand. After all, they need to keep enough food on-hand to get through the last customer of the night without running out. That makes for a lot of leftovers — unless you’re Justin Vrany.

Vrany is the chef and owner of Chicago-based restaurant Sandwich Me In. CBS Chicago’s John Dodge reports that Vrany “takes the concept of sustainability very seriously.”

From Jim Kelly.

Sandwich Me In, as the name suggests, serves completely sustainable sandwiches (not pictured). From Jim Kelly.

Allow me to call that out as a major understatement. Vrany recycles “99.999 percent” of waste produced at Sandwich Me In. Since opening in May 2012, he has recycled, reused, or composted almost everything.

Almost. There have been a few things that simply had to go in the trash over those two years. For these purposes, he kept an eight-gallon trash bag on hand. That same eight-gallon trash bag lasted two years — and, Dodge says, most of what ended up in the bag was brought in by customers. A reporter from Chicagoist says Vrany told her that  “90 percent of the accumulated eight gallons is made up of waste from unsuspecting passersby’s leaving empty coffee cups.” (Vrany reportedly makes a point of not introducing items to the restaurant that can’t be reused or recycled in some way.)

In spite of that eight-gallon bag of trash, Dodge declares that Sandwich Me In is zero waste. That’s because a local artist picked up the singular bag of trash and is turning it into a sculpture. And voila! Two years. Not one single item ending up in a landfill.

Vrany isn’t leaving that up to chance, either. He personally delivers recyclable items to the appropriate drop-off locations to ensure that they don’t end up in the wrong place.

But wait, there’s more. Vrany even built Sandwich Me In sustainably, filling only one-quarter of a dumpster during construction. “All of the furniture and equipment in the restaurant is either reused or refurbished,” reports Dodge. Sandwich Me In is entirely wind-powered, and they source ingredients from local farms and make almost all of it on-site.

Vrany’s sustainability efforts don’t stop at the door of the restaurant. The used cooking oil from Sandwich Me In is recycled for use in bio-diesel engines. Vrany also hopes that his efforts will inspire others. “We want to show people that there is food out there that has taste, that can be sourced locally and can reduce the impact on the environment,” he says.

If Sandwich Me In’s overwhelmingly positive Yelp reviews are to be believed, Vrany has done an excellent job balancing taste and sustainability.

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Category: Food

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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  1. I think using the term inspiring is a bit of an understatement. I mean I just can’t believe how impressive this really is….two years with just one bag of trash! I’m going to have to check out this place for myself, and I’d love to have a look at the furniture he picked for Sandwich Me In. By the way, the sandwich pictured above looks fantastic!

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