By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — When the Hagerty Conference Center kitchen prepped for Wednesday's Filmmaker Dinner, nary a scrap went into the waste bin.
Ditto for any uneaten food that came back on the plates.
That's because the conference center follows a comprehensive recycling plan that includes composting, for virtually waste-free events.
"We're probably recycling, in our busy times, somewhere between 1,500 and 1,800 pounds of waste a week," said Hagerty Conference Center director Nate Glidden, who developed the program along with the center's executive chef, Coburn McNaughton. "We've reduced our actual waste that goes into the landfill about 70 percent."
Its composting and recycling efforts recently earned the center certification by the Michigan Recycling Coalition (MRC). The Lansing-based organization, which promotes recycling and resource conservation in the state, has awarded only a dozen certifications to Michigan companies since the program began in 2008.
The Hagerty Center is the first conference center and the first community college-based center to earn the award, Glidden said. The center is owned and operated by Northwestern Michigan College.
"We're quite proud of the certification. We worked hard for it," he said. "It took us a long time. We had to get all our composting and recycling efforts up to snuff. There's a long list of requirements you have to meet, so it's a lengthy process. But you're improving your hospitality operation at the same time."
Glidden said that unlike many companies, which recycle at the end of the day or the shift, the Hagerty Center sorts, composts and recycles as its goes along, while still maintaining a high level of service to its clients for, say, a high-end dinner for 300. Every server, busser, dishwasher, and prep and banquet cook is trained in the procedures.
The center has nearly two dozen bins located in and outside the building, including two compost bins, a waste bin and a recycle station at the food service breakdown station. Organic waste eligible for composting includes fruit and vegetable rinds, cores and peelings, and proteins like the scraps of tenderloin left after trimming. Even the disposable tableware can be composted along with food scraps and uneaten food.
Administrative staff have their own recycling and resource conservation program, which includes printing on double-sided paper and using paper made with a high percentage of recycled paper.
Glidden said the center started the program about two and a half or three years ago, about the same time it hired McNaughton, who brought "a lot of green ideas and greener thinking" to the facility.
Back then, composting wasn't something the center could do through its normal service provider channels, Glidden said. Neither was recycling things like certain plastics, office computers and microphone batteries.
"We had cardboard, glass and paper covered through Waste Management, but we added e-waste and plastics (of all numbers) and metals through Bay Area Recyling for Charities," he said. "They don't do it for free; you pay a little bit more for the composting and recycling efforts, but at the same time you're lowering the number of waste pickups and the waste bin size that's going to the landfill."
MRC Executive Director Kerrin O'Brien applauded the center's efforts in a news release, saying, "Perhaps their proximity to one of Michigan's greatest water resources drives the Hagerty Conference Center, but they stand out in their commitment to recycling and composting in their facility.
"The Hagerty Center is proactive in pursuit of its sustainability goals and is reaping the benefits of that commitment, its zero waste goal and saving money."