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VOL. 126 | NO. 212 | Monday, October 31, 2011

McNeeley’s Project Green Fork Promotes Sustainability


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Project Green Fork and founder Margot McNeeley have made a significant impact on the Memphis community in only a few short years.

Margot McNeeley is founder of Project Green Fork, an organization that helps restaurants become more sustainable. McNeeley said there are nearly 40 Memphis area restaurants currently certified by PGF with more coming.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Since the program’s inception in 2008, PGF-certified restaurants have recycled more than 600,000 gallons of plastic, glass and aluminum; more than 300 tons of cardboard and paper; and 79,000 gallons of food waste.

“Restaurant owners have to want to do the right thing in order to keep this stuff out of landfills, and our Project Green Fork restaurants have really embraced the program,” said McNeeley, who started the nonprofit organization in 2008 in an effort to help local restaurants achieve sustainability.

The idea came about after McNeeley began noticing the large amount of trash coming from many area restaurants, and she wondered if there was something she could do to help.

The average restaurant produces 1.5 pounds of trash per meal, or about 25 tons of garbage a year, according to PGF. Typically, as much as 95 percent of this waste could be recycled or composted.

So McNeeley set up a pilot program with her first client, Tsunami, and began examining where the most trash was coming from at the restaurant and what could be done about it. Over the next eight months, McNeeley worked with Tsunami owners Ben Smith and Colleen Couch-Smith to create the six steps that are now used in the PGF certification process.

In order to achieve PGF certification, restaurants must agree to adopt programs for recycling; composting; eliminate the use of polystyrene cups and containers; reduce energy and water consumption; use less toxic, non-toxic and biodegradable chemicals; and work toward pollution prevention.

Since there is not a city program in place to pick up business recyclables and compostables, McNeeley enlists the help of Get Green Recycle Works, a start-up business that works closely with PGF as well as other area businesses like archer>malmo.

“One thing that has changed since we started up is how we handle compostables, which are unused kitchen prep items like fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds and eggs shells,” McNeeley said. “Early on we were having the restaurants mix them in a barrel with brown matter like leaves or shredded paper in order to give to gardeners and farmers, but it just ended up being really messy and disgusting. So now the restaurants put the compostables into five-gallon buckets and then either take them to Urban Farms or have Get Green Recycle Works pick them up and take them to a variety of community farms.”

McNeeley also helps restaurant owners save money on energy and water bills by identifying problems with anything from weather stripping to ceiling fan and light bulb usage.

“We help them to realize that by doing little things they can actually save money. In today’s world, restaurant owners just like any small business are looking for ways to cut costs, and they can do it while still being energy-efficient,” McNeeley said.

Project Green Fork’s current certified client roster includes 36 restaurants, including Fratelli’s, Central BBQ, Interim, Otherlands Coffee Bar, Andrew Michael, YoLo Frozen Yogurt, Huey’s, Cheffie’s Café and Sweet Grass. Seven more are nearing certification now, including Beauty Shop Restaurant Lounge, Do, Another Roadside Attraction, City Market, Mosa Asian Bistro and Bluff City Coffee.

Ryan Trimm, owner of Sweet Grass in Midtown, is now an enthusiastic PGF follower, but he was initially very reluctant about the program.

“One of my early concerns was how much money it would cost me. But after seeing how much we recycle and the amount of waste that we save from going to the dumps, it is really amazing,” said Trimm, whose restaurant produces more than 100 pounds of compost material along with as much as 32 55-gallon containers of recyclable materials each week. “We also began using all-green citrus-based cleaning products, and we take all of our composting material to Urban Farms.”

PGF’s newest addition in the past week is the Fuel Café food truck that sets up in various locations around Downtown, and McNeeley is excited about the possible addition of Molly’s La Casita in the coming months. Project Green Fork charges restaurant owners a one-time first-year fee of $500 for businesses that have been open for more than six months and $350 for new businesses. After the first year, annual dues are $100. PGF currently consists of McNeeley and five interns from area colleges.

McNeeley points out that an added bonus for PGF restaurants is advertising done through quarterly print ads and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“We try to get these local businesses as much attention as possible,” McNeeley said. “We want to help them to not only be environmentally sustainable but also to be as successful as possible.”

In return, many restaurants have added PGF items to their menus, like the Project Green Fork Roll at Sekisui Midtown and the Project Green Fork Smoothie at Cosmic Coconut, and each time one of those items is sold a portion goes to PGF. Project Green Fork also just took on its first client outside of Memphis as LadyBugg Bakery relocated to Hernando from Midtown and opened for business on Oct. 25. LadyBugg owners, daughter-and-mother team Heather Ries and Valerie Hawkes, worked with PGF while in Midtown, and they realize the value of remaining a member at their new location.

“We care about our town and the environment, so it’s great to be the first business in Hernando promoting Project Green Fork,” said Ries, who uses as many locally grown organic products as possible and even plans to give her shop’s compost material to agriculture students doing composting projects at Mississippi State University. “We want to do as much as we can to leave as little behind as possible.”

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