Compostable cafeMaybe you’ve been concerned about the many disposable food containers, plates and utensils you’ve used – and tossed – in the temporary café in our foyer, especially in light of Shedd’s commitment to green practices. Here’s the scoop: They’re all getting recycled or composted.

The Oceanarium renovation includes the facilities for our food service, which is operated by Sodexo. Right now we have limited kitchen space – and no room for an industrial-sized dishwasher. We know that our guests still need to rest and refuel, so we offer bottled beverages and healthy packaged and fast foods in our temporary café. With our reusable (i.e., dishwasher-safe) table settings in storage until the restaurants reopen, we’ve had to purchase disposable plates and utensils. They are made of 100 percent compostable or recyclable materials. The compostable tableware costs more than the usual plastic stuff, but it is reincarnated as humus for area gardens – including Shedd’s – instead of being preserved for the ages in a landfill. (Even the compostable products won’t biodegrade in a trash heap.)

A lot of items were still winding up in the café trash cans instead of in the recycling receptacles, so several food service staff members took it upon themselves to set up a recycling station behind the scenes and go through every bag of trash from the café, as well as from the vending area, the education lunchroom, the galleries and Wild Reef. On busy days, that might amount to 30 bags. No trash goes unsorted, and with assistance from Shedd’s conservation and environmental services departments and our waste hauler, Waste Management, Sodexho employees Joel “Pee Wee” Santos and William Bates, shown above, have become recycling experts. Each man can empty a trash bag in 3 to 5 minutes, pitching paper, plastic, glass, aluminum and compostables (including pre- and post-consumer food waste) into the proper bin.

So during the renovation, our food facilities might be a slightly lighter shade of green, but both Shedd and Sodexho staffers are going to the extra effort and expense to keep the aquarium’s waste stream at a trickle. That’s because at Shedd, we know we can make a difference every day. BTW, when the Oceanarium reopens, Soundings and Bubble Net will each have a 100 percent Energy Star professional kitchen.

Posted by Karen Furnweger, web editor