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At these restaurants, 'eating green' doesn't necessarily mean ordering a salad

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After opening in June, Grille Zone became the GRA's first certified environmentally friendly fast-food restaurant. Its green features surround the lunch crowd of mostly college students. Co-owner Ben Prentice points to the infrared grill, the energy-efficient lighting, the locally grown vegetables, the wall decoration taken from an old New England schoolhouse, the plates and cutlery made completely from corn and wheat starch – even those confusing compost and recycling barrels are from an old brandy distillery.

Because of its focus on biodegradable cups, utensils, and paper, Grille Zone produces an average of 15 pounds of waste a day. Mr. Prentice compares that to the US restaurant average of 275 pounds.

"Restaurants are typically huge waste producers, particularly, when guests are eating off disposable plates," Prentice says.

This problem hits fast-food places the most. While upscale restaurants wash and reuse their silverware, fast-food waste often just winds up in the trash. Those millions of Happy Meal bags and Whopper scraps are then dumped into landfills, which over time can produce methane, a greenhouse gas.

But for his restaurant, Prentice touts that the rubbish is brought to a compost facility and "in 30 to 60 days all that food waste is now mulch, and it goes back into a farmer's field or into your garden."

The Massachusetts burrito chain Boloco is pushing toward a similar low-waste future. In the next few weeks, its stores will phase out Styrofoam cups and use ones made of cornstarch instead, says Mike Harder, the company's president.

"We knew that Styrofoam was out," he says. (While recyclable, Styrofoam left in landfills is virtually nonbiodegradable.) "And we didn't want just plastic cups. So, we chose a material that was good for the environment, and most people will never notice the difference."

Such a claim couldn't be made a few years ago. Early cornstarch spoons would melt in hot soup, while potato-based cups would leak when filled with hot coffee.

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