Cafe Laura, School of Hospitality Management serve as sustainability model
Story by David Cranage
Using furniture made from plastic soda bottles; composting more food waste; recycling more trash - all of these measures led to the School of Hospitality Management (SHM) and Cafe Laura receiving a number of sustainability recognitions.
Accolades for SHM and Cafe Laura, an on-campus restaurant run primarily by students, include the Pennsylvania Waste Watcher Award in 2011, 2012 and 2013 from the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania. The Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority also named SHM and Cafe Laura a Centre County Green Business Partner for 2014.
The awards stem from a collaborative effort between administrators, faculty members, staff members and students to reduce the amount of waste produced, decrease the amount of waste sent to landfills, increase composting efforts and increase the amount of waste recycled.
"People look to Cafe Laura as being the model for campus," said Scott King, manager of Cafe Laura. "We have to train students and mentor them, so when they go into the industry they are equipped with the skills they need."
Dave Cranage, associate professor of hospitality management, said Cafe Laura composts 60 to 70 percent of its waste, and recycles between 10 and 20 percent of its waste. The compost is used for landscaping as part of a campus-wide program led by Nadine Davitt, supervisor of waste and recycling with the Office of Physical Plant (OPP). The compost is also sold to the public at the Lion Surplus store.
"On a good day we could prevent 90 percent of the waste from going to a landfill," Cranage said. "I think it is the future and we're training future leaders in the hospitality industry. We cannot continue the way we did things in the past."
Michelle Ilgen, an SHM administrative coordinator who assisted with recent Cafe Laura renovations, helped with the selection of furniture. Chairs in the foyer are made from recycled plastic bottles and tabletops in the foyer and dining area are made with 93 percent natural quartz.
Matthew Coll, a recent SHM graduate and assistant manager at Cafe Laura, said the various sustainability measures he has helped implement will give him an edge in the job market.
"As I go out into the industry, I am going to continue to embrace this and implement these systems. It is cheaper to recycle something than it is to put it into a landfill. It really impacts the bottom line," Coll said.
Al Matyasovsky, supervisor of Central Support Services with OPP, assisted Cafe Laura with its sustainability program by identifying ways to reduce and reuse waste. The office handles recycling and composting programs for the entire campus.
In 1995, University Park recycled 20 items. Today, 105 items are recycled on campus. In 2014, the National Recycling Coalition presented Penn State with its Outstanding Higher Education Award for its "exceptional program in recycling" and for "connecting higher education and industry."
Matyasovsky attributes the program's success to folks like Cranage and King who seek out solutions from Matyasovsky and his staff.
"They have embraced it. They have made it a mission of sorts to do this right. I want to give all credit to the folks we work with," Matyasovsky said. "Without people like Dave Cranage, Scott King and the students, without them willing to do the right thing, the positive thing, the program would not be as good as it is."
SHM and Cafe Laura implemented some of the sustainability measures through a partnership with CleanRiver Recycling and Waste Stream Systems, which is a provider of recycling containers made from raw materials with the highest recycled content available. The company also provides recycling program consulting and programs that support effective recycling.
Steve Tafeit, sustainability adviser with CleanRiver, worked with King and Coll to create a consistent recycling program at Cafe Laura that would be easy to understand for students working in and dining at the restaurant.
"CleanRiver's role was to take the source separation requirements provided by Penn State and design a solution that would fit within the kitchen space and enhance the dining area," Tafeit said.
In the kitchen area, CleanRiver worked with Penn State to design custom recycling units to collect the various materials, including food waste for compost. The containers feature color-coded openings and custom images that show kitchen staff where to discard the exact items they handle throughout the day.
In the dining area, CleanRiver designed a complementary set of containers with images of items specific to the dining area to help students and other customers identify where their waste and recycled items should go.
The goal is to ensure items that can be recycled are recycled and items that can be composted are composted. The end result is less trash going to the landfill.
"The images make a huge difference," King said. "If students and other customers don't know where to put it, then they're just going to throw it wherever."