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Milwaukee Restaurant Will Soon Compost Your Leftovers

Most restaurants that compost stick to vegetable scraps and coffee grounds. But one Milwaukee restaurant will soon compost as much as it can - even customers' leftovers - thanks to a new pilot program.
VIA Downer's owner John Rossetto believes the restaurant is the first in Milwaukee to do composting on this scale.

"There are many that currently separate veggie scraps, coffee grounds, etc. like we've been doing... but I think we are the first to divert all compostable material away from trash," he says.

His restaurant is teaming up with the local volunteer organization Kompost Kids to expand just what and how much VIA Downer composts. The benefit to the restaurant, Rossetto says, is putting less waste in the landfill - hopefully without spending more to compost.

"I think a lot of restaurants, including us, don’t truly have an idea of the volume that can be composted," he says.

Credit Susan Bence
One of VIA Downer's compost buckets.

Currently, Kompost Kids collects 5-gallon buckets of compost from about 20 partner restaurants, including VIA Downer, to its composting site in Bay View. But it recently received a $10,000 grant to ramp up how much it collects.

The group has put some of that money toward a compost-only dumpster for VIA Downer, that Rossetto says the restaurant wouldn't otherwise be able to afford.

This dumpster would allow VIA Downer to compost more kinds of organic waste, such as meat, fish bits and dairy products, that typically attract pests. Rossetto says all of this is compostable, but needs to be brought to right setting.

For example, once the restaurant's new compost-only dumpster is in place, a truck will fetch Rossetto's stash and transport it to a family-owned composting operation in Racine County. There, it will cook down into rich soil.

If the pilot program is successful, the effort will be expanded to Kompost Kids' other partner restaurants across the city.

At VIA Downer, Rossetto’s staff will soon begin composting everything possible, including scraps satiated customers leave behind. Rossetto has trained the 50 people he employs to pluck out the occasionally drinking straw or stray piece of silverware, and then drop the rest into the appropriate bin.

“We’re taking a week to sit down with our staff to make sure that they know that we’re going to have a container for recycling, for composting and trash and what is it,” Rossetto says.

He hopes that means the restaurant can go from having a big dumpster for trash down to just a regular size garbage can.

But he also plans to gauge the cost of making this change. Right now, he spends up to $500 a month to have crews pick up the restaurant’s trash and recycling. He says, in order to add a third dumpster for compost, the scheme must make financial, as well as environmental sense.

If all goes well, Rossetto says he’ll incorporate the new system here and at his other restaurant, Transfer Pizzeria and Café in the Walker’s Point neighborhood.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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