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MCC Cafeteria Receives 3 Star Green Restaurant Certification

[Thursday, October 11, 2018]


Valerie King, grill cook at MCC, empties a bin of kitchen food scraps into a dumpster, which will be picked up and composted. The food scrap collection is a new initiative that helped the college recently earn a 3 Star Certified Green Restaurant rating.

McHenry County College (MCC) continues to be a leader of sustainability as the MCC Café recently became a 3 Star Certified Green Restaurant, making MCC the only community college in the U.S. to reach this level.

According to MCC’s Food Service director Sandra Johnston, a new initiative to compost food scraps helped the college earn its third rating in two years to be green certified. The cafeteria’s efforts are part of the campus-wide culture of sustainability initiated by the MCC Sustainability Center.

“I’m very excited,” Johnston said. “We started collecting organics from the kitchen for composting this semester. Our goal is to begin collecting compostable items from the users of the café in the spring semester,” she said, adding that the challenge will be educating students, faculty and staff to separate food scraps from their plates at the designated waste stations.

The cafeteria fills five garbage totes with organic food scraps in a week, just from the kitchen and Johnston said she’s already looking for additional organics pickups from the local hauler.

Johnston described the daily routine of separating food scraps in the kitchen a simple process, but with a slight learning curve.

“It’s easy to do,” she said. “It’s just learning new habits of cutting up fruit, vegetables and trimmings. Sometimes we catch ourselves throwing scraps into the regular garbage, but now we cover the garbage can, which reminds us to keep food scraps separate from regular garbage.”

Johnson and her team also collect meat scraps, bones, dairy, pressed fiber paper plates and napkins.

In addition to the food scrap collection, the cafeteria switched to new water-saving faucet spray heads in the dishwashing area, green wick sternos for chafing dish fuel and more energy-efficient light bulbs in the exhaust hood systems.

In 2016, MCC’s café became the first community college cafeteria in the country to become certified as a Green Restaurant through the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). Since then, Johnston has discovered eco-friendly, biodegradable items to use as needed. While the café normally uses chinaware and stainless utensils that are washed daily, its disposable items include cups and bowls instead of Styrofoam, and compostable straws and utensils made from plant-based material instead of petroleum-based plastic.

“We earned additional points for swapping polystyrene to using plant-based utensils,” she said.

Johnston noted that another factor that helped the college earn the Green Restaurant ratings was the MCC Café renovation in 2012, which included installing eco-friendly equipment, lighting and adding a waste recycling and a water bottle filling station.

Hydroponic lettuce and other greens from the on-campus greenhouse is another example of the café’s sustainable initiatives.

“I applaud the 59 environmental steps that the MCC Café at McHenry County College has taken to become a 3 Star Certified Green Restaurant®,” said Michael Oshman, CEO and founder of the Green Restaurant Association. “They were the first community college in the nation to get certified, and they continue to raise the bar by adding new green initiatives.”

MCC has developed an ongoing culture of sustainability through the MCC Sustainability Center and the school’s master plan, which includes three major initiatives—green campus, green curriculum, and green community. As a result of the environmental initiatives taken by the MCC Café and the Sustainability Center, the college can save $7,446 in energy and water bills during the year and the equivalent of 32 backyard swimming pools in water.

GRA standards provide a transparent way to measure each restaurant’s environmental accomplishments while providing a pathway for the next steps each restaurant can take towards increased environmental sustainability. To qualify, restaurants must meet environmental standards in a number of categories, including water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, and sustainable food.

GRA certification itself is made up of over 500 environmental standards, including 40 from external science, environmental, and governmental organizations. Each standard earns a restaurant a certain number of GreenPoints™ towards becoming a Certified Green Restaurant. MCC’s café is already at the third, or 3-star level, and to maintain or improve its rating, it must continue improving and earning GreenPoints at three- and six-year intervals.


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