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Good Trash Goes in Small Packages

National Restaurant News, Unit Specs Magazine,
May 2003

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From a waste-management perspective, the idea that good things come in small packages is playing to a receptive audience of quick-service restaurant chains.

More specifically, some big-name chains are finding that converting large bags or trash into smaller bags of smashed trash can reduce waste-hauling expenses. Restaurants employing a manual trash compactor in the back of the house, a group that includes McDonald's, White Castle and Burger King outlets, also are benefiting in subtle but potentially dramatic ways by reducing the number of employee trips to the trash bin.

In the case or the companies mentioned above and a handful of others, a key to their trash strategy is a device that looks like something from the bridge of an ocean liner. The Pack-A-Drum system from Satellite Beach, Fla.-based Pack-A Drum Inc., is a manual trash compactor that, through the turning of a large wheel, deflates Ihe trash bags to about a fourth or their prevIous size. A platform cart used to transfer the flattened trash to a container rounds out the system, preventing what is known in the industry as the "snail trail" -the line of fluid that spills from a trash bag carried directly from the dining area to the bin.

According to Mark Wagner, VP of marketing for Pack-A-Drum, many things happen when the size or the trash is reduced by smashing it manually in the drum. "A big joke in the restaurant business is when someone says they're doing a trash run, they're typically doing a smoke break," says Wagner, a former Miami Subs Grill franchisee. "Employees will ask for the trash run, and sometimes it will take five to 15 minutes. We all know it doesn't lake that long."

Reducing the size of the trash lessens the number of daily trash runs by restaurant employees. A typical quick-service restaurant might see six to 10 trash runs a day. Smashing trash to a fourth of Its original size can reduce the same restaurant's number of daily trash runs to two or three.

Plus, the volume of trash in the bin is reduced by the same factor, resulting in lower hauling fees. According to Wagner, a manual system that deflates the bags of trash (which at a fast-food restaurant consist largely of air surrounded by empty cups and sandwich containers) is not subject to the more expensive hauling rates that typically apply to trash that is put through hydraulic compactors. "These rates vary by region and by waste company, but are generally based on weight-to-density factors. "The kind of trash collected at the typical fast-food outlet can be safely compacted to a fourth of its size without a change in its hauling rate," he says.

Before going to the manual-compressor system, a high-volume McDonald's outlet in Monroe, N.C., required that trash be hauled from its bin every day. With the Pack-A-Drum in place, hauling has been reduced to twice a week - a savings of $325 a month, with more savings expected.

"We just don't have as many runs out the back door."' says Tony Roads. general manager of the restaurant. It's not leaking, either."

Limiting trash runs also can help prevent shrink and accidents, says Pack-A-Drum's Wagner. The flattened bags of trash in clear liners combine to make it more difficult for an employee to smuggle boxes of burgers out the back door. Similarly, fewer runs to the trash bin mean fewer opportunities for spills and accidents.

The actual and potential savings of a manual trash-compacting device added up quickly for Wagner when he was in the restaurant business from 1991 through 1998 The challenges of trash are as real today as they were then, and so are the rewards.

"In a numbers game like the fast-food industry, pennies start to add up to dollars very quickly."' Wagner says. "'There's profit in your trash."