October 18, 2016 - Atlanta - Liza Milagro, the airport's senior sustainability leader, at the site of the future Green Acres airport composting and recycling facility. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Hartsfield-Jackson restaurateurs object to compostables requirement

As Hartsfield-Jackson International prepares to require compostable materials in airport restaurants, some restaurateurs are objecting to the move because the airport does not have a facility where the materials can be composted.

So the compostable materials — which are more expensive — are just going to a landfill.

The airport for six years has tried to roll out a sustainable food court initiative to compost waste from airport concessions.

But it has struggled to find a composting facility to handle the waste, and the airport’s “Green Acres” project to build a composting and recycling facility has gone through multiple procurement attempts and delays.

Hartsfield-Jackson officials have spent months reviewing the most recent set of proposals and the city is close to seeking city council approval for the project.

But it could be months more before a contract is executed, then it would be another year before the facility is operational.

However, the world’s busiest airport is moving forward with its plan to require concessionaires to go Styrofoam-less and to use compostable materials starting Oct. 15.

Georgia Restaurant Association CEO Karen Bremer said compostable packaging can be twice the price of conventional packaging. She said she supports the move toward compostables in general.

But, “I believe it is foolhardy to implement the compostable packaging at the airport until we have a facility to take it to,” Bremer said to the city council transportation committee this week. “It’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of money.”

Using compostable plates, cups and cutlery could give travelers the false impression that the materials are being composted, she noted.

LeMonica Hakeem, vice president of business development for Atlanta-based Concessions International, said the materials are more expensive, and “we’re just asking that the timing be coordinated better so that the materials can be properly composted.” Concessions International operates restaurants at Hartsfield-Jackson including Fly Burger, Fresh To Order, Lotta Frutta and Paschal’s, and also helps manage other restaurants at the airport.

Hartsfield-Jackson senior sustainability leader Liza Milagro said even without a composting facility, “it’s a less toxic stream going to the landfill.” She also said keeping Styrofoam out of the waste stream reduces costs for recyclable loads that are “contaminated” with Styrofoam in them.

Airport officials said the requirement for compostable materials is in the concessionaires’ contracts. Milagro said she is also working on an interim solution to handle materials before the Green Acres facility is up and running.

“Behavioral change takes time. We cannot start the transition process with these materials and open Green Acres at the same time,” Milagro said. The airport plans to put kiosks in the airport’s food courts for travelers to separate their waste.

The compostable materials requirement is part of the Atlanta airport’s sustainable management plan introduced in 2011, which includes a goal of reducing waste by 90 percent by 2020. The materials concessionaires use will have to be certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute or accepted by Cedar Grove Composting.

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