A shopping cart full of discarded vegetables and coffee remains makes its way every week from Tel Aviv’s Cafe Bacio to the garden of the adjacent Gavrieli Hacarmel elementary school. If a group of 3rd-5th graders would not load up the leftover food and compost it in the school garden, it would end up, like most Tel Aviv garbage, in a garbage dump.
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Café Bacio is one of 30 restaurants, cafes and bars participating in the first stage of a green certificate enterprise for food businesses to be launched next week. The certificate, the initiative of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Israel Standards Institute and the Environmental Quality Authority within the Tel Aviv municipality, is intended to encourage businesses to engage in environmental change by saving water and energy, reducing waste and making their acquisitions and inventories more efficient. The next stage is to make the program national.
Businesses will only receive the certificate if they meet a number of criteria such as installing water-saving devices, making their frying and cooking more efficient and reducing the amount of disposable dishes or switching to biodegradable dishes. Batz’o is among the first batch of 22 restaurants out of the 30 participants to receive the certificate, whose goal is to promote the establishment’s image.
According to Environmental Protection Ministry data, the businesses that participated in the program’s first stage saved over half a million shekels in water and electricity consumption, eliminating 2,000 garbage truck deliveries a year.
“Food businesses make a huge environmental impact,” says Haran Bar-On, who coordinates the green certificate project in the Environmental Quality Authority. “They consume five-seven times more electricity per area unit compared to all other commercial businesses, and generate a large amount of waste. Until now, their contact with the authority was mainly through inspectors who handed out fines and posted demands. We thought that it would be worth developing positive communications and helping boost business branding.” According to him, encouraging businesses to take measures to reduce their environmental impact will also contribute to improving their finances.
“Thanks to this process, I started reviewing deliveries and saw that I could reduce the number of times that suppliers come to us,” says Merav Barzilay, owner of the Meshek Barzilay vegetarian bistro the Neveh Tzedek neighborhood. “Municipal officials were really nitpicky with me in the restaurant, and I saw that it was possible to make small changes. For example, regular cleaning of filters in electronic devices that save electricity.”
Another idea in some of the businesses was to stop automatically using straws and napkins, and only serving them upon request. “Most people are understanding,” says Barzilay. As a result, according to the authority, businesses saved a million disposable items last year.
Businesses will be able to choose from a host of efficiency and savings operations to receive the green certificate. There are also limits, like forbidding the sale of threatened species of fish, which prevented one restaurant from getting the certificate. Each business had to prove that it had cut the number of deliveries by two suppliers for at least six months to meet the travel reduction criterion, which leads to less air pollution by delivery vehicles.
Not surprisingly, many owners who joined the program were already environmentally conscious. Boaz Tregerman, for example, the owner of the Bacio and Mersand cafes, has been using Sabbath clocks for years on his electronic devices at Mersand to make sure they would not be left on by accident. Tregerman says that the certificate program allowed him to develop new relations with city inspectors. They used to fine him for cardboard boxes he left for street collection. Recently, he asked suppliers to bring him goods in reusable plastic boxes. Thus, he saves on the cardboard garbage and on the fines.
He says that in some cases reducing environmental impact isn’t so simple. “I wanted to switch to using biodegradable disposable dishes,” he says, “but I discovered that many of them are not really biodegradable and liquids leak through some of them. The effective ones are very expensive.”
Some of the businesses switched to efficient faucets and energy-saving LED lighting, which, according to Barzilay, “is a one-time investment that proves itself.” Meshek Barzilay also started watering its plants with drip irrigation.
Food usage also drew special attention. Sui Sushi stopped discarding the center of their cucumbers and started putting them in salads. Café Mersand starting buying some of its vegetables from a hydroponic garden operating on the roof of nearby Dizengoff Center, reducing its need to transport goods.
Other simple means include installing plastic blinds at the entrances of cold storage rooms, preventing warm air from entering from the outside each time the storage room door is opened and thus letting the air conditioner operate more efficiently. Such blinds, which cost 200 shekels, can cut down energy consumption by over 20 percent. Even frying can be more efficient. Environmental Quality Authority officials say in the green certificate guide they distributed to owners that electric devices for frying potato chips work only a quarter of the time that they are on.
There are places like Perla Bar in the Florentine neighborhood that adapted energy-saving activities to the needs of the place. “Regular LED lighting did not suit the bar’s atmosphere, and I found in the end more appropriate light bulbs,” says Erez Dasa, the owner. Perla is saving on storage and serving beer. Dasa built before the program started a new cold room that is more energy efficient at storing beer at the right temperature. The room allowed him to reduce incidents of beer warming up. He stopped using bottles and switched to washing beer glasses with cold water, and got rid of the dishwasher that consumes a large of amount of water and cleaning materials. Dasa notes that his main impetus to join the green certificate program was cutting costs, but his conclusion now is “that whatever is green is basically efficient and money-saving.”
The French embassy in Jaffa is also among the initial program participants, but because it is not a commercial business it will not receive the official sticker. Mayor Ron Huldai and Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay will participate in a ceremony next week in Tel Aviv to launch the certificate, which is described as a service certificate.
Officials in the ministry say the program’s success will take a long time to measure and rely on more businesses receiving the certificate. They plan to add another 50 businesses in Tel Aviv in 2017, and will include shopping center and markets, which also have much work ahead of them to be more efficient and less polluting.