Tuesday, December 02, 2008

a citizen's unrest

ever since i saw it, i've been leery of chop't, a trendy takeout place in NY & DC that specializes in salads. the only reason i went for lunch a couple of weeks ago is because lisa had a gift certificate. i tend to look down upon salad eaters as either anorexic or unimaginative.

chop't actually surprised me. they had an impressive array of salad options, toppings, and "homemade" dressings. they throw all of your chosen toppings into a bowl and mix it up, then dump it out onto a cutting board, add dressing and chop it all up with a large curved bi-handle knife. then they dump it back into a gigantic plastic bowl. it works out so that the dressing covers everything and every bite you take has a little bit of everything in it. it's pretty miraculous.

they make a point of being very health- and environmentally-conscious, serving fresh, often organic fruits and veggies, so i was surprised to find that they don't recycle the plastic bowls! they even have a recycling bin in their store, but the opening is just small enough that the bowls don't fit in. everyone had thrown their bowls into the adjacent trash can, which was overflowing. in my bemused anger, i pulled the recycling bin out from under the counter and put my bowl in it anyway. then i ranted about it to lisa, who agreed.

when i got back to work i sent a website message to chop't:

Message sent on 11/17/2008 1:48:01 PM
customer - JF

I am amazed that this location (and likely, all of your
locations) has no recycling bin for the plastic containers in which your
salads are served. The recycling bin for "bottles and cans" has too small of
an opening for the salad containers, so everyone just throws them in the

Please, either widen the opening for the recycling bin or create a new one
altogether for the plastic containers. It is such a waste to see so much
avoidable garbage.

to my surprise, 30 minutes later i got a response from "boat", the area director:

Mon, Nov 17, 2008 at 2:16 PM

We at Chop't could not agree more with your thoughts on recycling our salad
containers. We like to consider ourselves very environmentally conscious and
are working on more initiatives to be even more Green.
However, the DC government does not permit the recycling of plastic
containers that have been used for food service. We have tried several times
to challenge their policy to no avail.
Seems as though restaurants are held to a different regulation than private
citizens who are assumed to have washed their plastic containers prior to
placing in recycling bins.

Thank you for your comments and shared concern for the environment.

R. Boatright
Area Director
well, doesn't that just beat all? what a nice guy. realizing that i could no longer focus my frustration on dhop't, i sent a message to mayor fenty's office about their irresponsible recycling policies:
Sent: Monday, November 17, 2008 4:45 PM

Mayor Fenty,

I am writing with a question about the District's recycling
policy. I appreciate your forward-mindedness in embracing
environmental programs of all types, including the recent
expansion of recycling items.

I visited the restaurant Chop't for the first time today, at
their location on 19th & L. They happen to serve all of their
salads in sizeable plastic containers. Yet when I went to
toss mine into the recycling bin, I found that the bin
opening was too small to accomodate it.

When I complained to management, they informed me that
"the DC government does not permit the recycling of
plastic containers that have been used for food service. We
have tried several times to challenge their policy to no

Why are restaurants prevented from recycling the same
products that private residents are allowed? Why, when a
business shows energy and interest in improving District
policy, are no steps taken?

i figured like any good government office, the bureaucracy would overwhelm them and my email would be lost forever in the annals of the mayor's email trash bin.

again - surprise! the bureaucracy only delayed a response by 2 weeks!

Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 2:48 PM

Mr. F;

This e-mail is in response to your e-mail expressing concern about the
recycling program of the District of Columbia. It is because of
residents like you that recycling has become a priority in our city.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) provides the opportunity for all
District residents that receive city trash collection with three or
fewer units to recycle. This is approximately 110,000 households. This
accounts for twenty five percent of the waste stream. Every other type
of establishment under District law is considered a commercial property
which accounts for seventy-five percent of the waste stream.

DC law requires recycling in all commercial establishments. These
include office buildings, churches, retailers, warehouses, apartment
buildings (with four or more units), cooperatives, condominiums, bars
and restaurants, as well as museums, associations, non-profit
organizations, schools, and universities. The following items are
required by law to be recycled:

* Paper
* Aluminum, steel, and tin cans
* Brown, green, and clear glass bottles and jars
* Plastic food containers and beverage are optional but we
encourage you to recycle them.


The Office of Recycling always encourages businesses to recycle as much as
they can beyond the basic requirements of District law. Whether or not
to recycle the plastics in question was a choice made by the business

William E.
Recycling Program Officer

now things were getting interesting - everyone's denying culpability! it's no one's fault! it's everyone's fault! i feel like i'm taking crazy pills!

i didn't know who to believe - either one of them could have been lying, or neither. perhaps it was a case of poor communication mixed with governmental inefficiencies. but it wasn't important. i wasn't going to sleep until chop't recycled its bowls.

so i forwarded the above email back to "boat" and stated, in my least accusatory tone, that i hoped it was all a matter of miscommunication and could be corrected.

it took "boat" all of 0.3 seconds to reply:

Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 4:10 PM

Wow Jonny that's awesome!
I will bring this up at team mtg tmr and it may kickstart a store retrofit with for rubbish.
Will keep in touch.
Thanks for following up for us!

and there you have it, concerned citizen action gets results. well, promised results aren't so bad. or, promise to bring it up at a team mtg at least. and as we all know, anyone who uses txtspk is not only hip but focused, and doesn't have time to waste time bringing up superfluous suggestions at team mtgs. if i can be forgiven for allegorizing, this is one boat headed for shore.


  1. This makes me sick. Chop't is supposed to be green but it seems like it is just a PR stunt. They should be using biodegradable cornstarch "plastic" containers and utensils. Maybe you should email Boat about it and I will too.

  2. I agree. With the availability of vegetable-based plastics it doesn't make sense. Even recycling regular (petroleum-based) plastics is only a reactive solution - plastics can only be recycled one or two times before they end up in the landfill with the rest.

    And by the way, before I left DC for Korea in Feb 09, they still hadn't done anything to install a recycling bin.

    If you send me an email (finityjm@gmail.com) I'll give you Boat's and others' email addresses.


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