If slamming a sledgehammer into a plastic container a couple thousand times is meant to demonstrate the bin's strength, consider this mission accomplished.
Lots of receptacles can take this type of punishment, meant to imitate years of moving containers around in a typical busy kitchen. The difference: This food bin is made of a plastic that does not contain Bisphenol A (BPA), which is considered a toxin.
The container is part of a BPA-free line that Rubbermaid Consumer Products launched at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago. It's also one of a wide range of products, devices, and services that companies are exhibiting to help eateries get greener.
"Green has become more mainstream," says Michael Oshman, chief executive and president of the Green Restaurant Association, based in Boston. "An increasing number of people are not only asking for it but expecting it."
The organization helps restaurants become certified as green and more sustainable. That means an operator must do more than simply recycle, offer organic and sustainable products, or use environmentally friendly cleaning products.
It involves thinking about a restaurant's entire carbon footprint.
Rubbermaid is the first to make a BPA-free line of containers in the commercial space. "They are durable enough to last through the rough and tumble treatment" of a restaurant kitchen, says Jennifer Schneider, a spokeswoman.
The company used Eastman Chemical Co.'s Tritan copolyester to develop the line, which features 174 items that are able to withstand the pressures of commercial dishwashing, harsh detergents, and extended use without cracking or chipping.
The bin being pounded at the Rubbermaid booth had already been through 250 cycles in a commercial dishwasher before the hammering began.
One of those who tested the new Rubbermaid products is Matt Accarrino, executive chef at SPQR in San Francisco. He says he sees no difference in durability of the containers but recognizes the huge environmental advantage.
"I have been using organic [items] for 10–15 years, and that it is now the norm for restaurants in San Francisco," he notes. "If I spent all this time creating these wonderful ingredients, why would I want to store them in a BPA container?"
Scotsman Ice Systems, or Vernon Hills, Illinois, is displaying its Prodigy Advanced Sustainability family of ice machines, which saves up to 50 percent of water and 15 percent of the energy in previous icemakers.
"It can save 150,000 gallons of water over a [machine's] lifetime, which is about seven years," says Terry Toth, marketing communications manager.
The new line uses technology that detects the hardness level of water and purges minerals from the liquid, helping to speed the ice-making process.
About a half dozen of the restaurant association's kitchen innovation award-winning products this year aid the environment, including water- and energy-efficient devices.
The CookTek Induction System's SinAqua Waterless Food Holding System, for instance, uses induction warming—through gentle infrared radiant heat and LED lighting—to replace steam or dry holding. This dramatically reduces energy costs, too.
But others are creating new products, too. EcoLogicSolutions, known for earth-friendly cleaning supplies, developed its Electro Chemically Activated technology that turns tap water, mixed with salt, into two green products: a detergent and a sanitizer.
"It's 99.9 percent water, and replaces some of the toxic poisons used in restaurants," says founder Anselm Doering. "Why are we selling something that is cannibalizing our product sales? Because it is the right thing to do."
The $40,000 systems can achieve a return on investment in eight to 18 months, he adds.
Green thinking can also take place in the front of the house, and a Florida-based importer called Front of the House achieves that with a range of eco-friendly items, including BPA-free plastic cups and degradable poplar plates that can heat to 350 degrees.
"We also have Melamine-free plates made from crushed bamboo fibers," says Joessy Perez, product development supervisor.
Then there's always the consideration of what to do with what's left over after all the cooking, and that where the Association of Restaurant Owners for a Sustainable Earth comes in. It recycles the oil into a biofuel.
Unlike biodiesel, which results in additional chemicals, 100 percent organic biofuel in the form of straight vegetable oil "makes a statement you're trying to be green," says Mark Gross, regional sales manager for AROSE. "Plus, we pay you for to take the oil."
The association has more than 14,000 restaurant members and collects over 40 million gallons of used cooking oil every year.
By Barney Wolf