Professor giving a lecture to students in old main
Spartanburg restaurant emphasizes recycling

by Trevor Anderson
For Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal

The chilies aren't the only "green" thing at Willy Taco, apparently.

In the kitchen of the trendy new east-side eatery, a recycling effort that seeks to take the disposal of leftover food, paper, glass and plastic products to a new level is in full swing.

When the restaurant opened in November, the five owners of the venture, partnered with Joseph McMillin, president of Spartanburg-based Junk Matters LLC, to go zero waste, keeping at least 90 percent of their trash out of local landfills. The owners hope their program will inspire other dining spots to do the same.

"We're doing everything we can to be as green as possible," said Eric Holman, a partner in Willy Taco's ownership, which also includes William Cribb, Kenneth Cribb, Bill Burton and Richard Heatly.

"I think what Joseph is doing is brilliant. He's latched on to something cool, and I hope other restaurants will join in… Once you get used to (zero waste recycling), it's really pretty easy. Our employees are proud of it, and we actually have a lot of fun doing it."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste. In 2011, the country generated more than 36 million tons of food waste.

Holman said the cost of going zero waste is comparable to regular trash pick-up services.

"It's very competitive, if not more cost effective," he said.

Holman said McMillin's program was a natural fit for the restaurant, which used old cargo containers, car seats and other repurposed items in its décor. Willy Taco is between 95 and 99 percent waste-free, he said.

Collection bins are strategically placed at the dishwashing and food prep areas in the kitchen. Waste items are sorted and thrown into a bin for either compostable or recyclable materials.

Each day, the bins are taken out back and emptied into larger containers that McMillin's company picks up twice a week. Holman said McMillin spent the week prior to the restaurant's opening training the staff.

McMillin opened his business while he was still a student at Wofford College. He has tailored zero waste programs for Wofford, RJ Rockers, Little River Roasting Co., Johnson Development, Pure Barre, OTO Recycling, Magnolia Lofts, Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and other facilities since he began offering the program last year.

Willy Taco's trash is hauled to Wilbros Organic Recovery in Toccoa, Ga., McMillin said.

"There is a lot of interest in (zero waste)," he said. "We've got a lot more (companies) recycling than we originally anticipated… It's exciting. We're just trying to do our part to help companies reduce their eco footprint."

McMillin said he will start a dorm recycling program at Wofford on Feb. 3. He recently hired Wofford grad and Spartanburg native Kate Conner to serve as vice president. The company has four employees in total, but he hopes to add more as the demand for his services grows.

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