Trafalgars Bistro and Sweet Obsession shows just how easy it is to drastically reduce our carbon footprint
If you knew that with an extra bit of effort you could divert almost all of your waste from the landfill, would you do it?
Kitsilano’s Trafalgars Bistro  and adjacent bakery Sweet Obsession , both owned by Stephen Greenham and Lorne Tyczenski, are doing just that. I was able to see with my own eyes how they're able to prevent 100 percent of their organic waste and about 98 percent of their remaining waste from making its way to the dump. Cool!
I sat down with general manager Andrea Thorgilsson in the cozy, 40-seat dining room at Trafalgars Bistro to talk about their composting and recycling program, and to get a look at their fancy new composting machine in action.
Thorgilsson says owners Tyczenski and Greenham have endeavoured to be green since opening Sweet Obsession in 1993 (followed by Trafalgars Bistro in 1997).
“As the technology emerged they were always keen to learn what they could about it, and see if it would be practical for a commercial space,” says Thorgilsson. So when they heard about GreenGood ’s industrial-size composters they did some research and, satisfied with what they learned, they bought the machine (theirs is the GG-50 model) and had it up and running as of August 2011.
The machine takes everything (from bones and shells to bread, meat and anything else edible) and according to the GreenGood website, “reduces the volume of waste by 95 percent by evaporating water and discharging carbon dioxide gas and the remaining 5 percent is turned into compost.” The process uses high-temperature, microbe-based fermentation and rotating blades.
Trafalgars Bistro and Sweet Obsession owners Stephen Greenham and Lorne Tyczenski show off their new eco-friendly composting machine, the GreenGood GG-50. (Image: Dennis Gocer )
This process of rendering organic waste to dirt only takes 12 to 24 hours, and due to the nano deodorization system the finished product isn’t smelly—I poked my head in through the top door and the lovely scent of dirt was all that hit my discerning nose.
Of Trafalgars Bistro and Sweet Obsession’s remaining waste, 98 percent of it is filtered into seven different recycling streams (returnable containers, hard plastics, soft plastics, glass, paper, metal and cardboard) and picked up by Urban Impact , a local recycling company. Their actual garbage bins inside the restaurants are about the size of a soup bowl.
“We had an industrial-sized garbage bin that we tipped at a landfill four times per week,” says Thorgilsson. Since they got the GreenGood composter, they’ve replaced the large bin with a small household garbage cart , and Thorgilsson says it isn’t even full by the end of the week. The duo were originally paying $900 per month to have the large bin emptied, so in just over two years the $25,000 machine will have paid for itself.
Not only have they reduced their dumping fees, but they’ve also drastically reduced their carbon footprint. I didn’t realize the impact that organic waste has on a landfill, and ignorantly assumed it eventually decomposed without issue.
But in the absence of oxygen (which is what happens when buried beneath piles of garbage) organic waste gives off methane , a greenhouse gas, as it breaks down. Composting, in contrast, is an aerobic process that gives off water and carbon dioxide, and the resulting by-product can be used to fertilize food crops and significantly improve their nutrient quality. Win-win!
Trafalgars Bistro and Sweet Obsession Team Up with Inner City Farms
This is what a mixture of fruits, vegetables, meat, eggshells and bones looks like after only 12 to 24 hours inside the GreenGood composter. (Image: Trafalgars Bistro)
Another perk to Trafalgars Bistro and Sweet Obsession’s innovative composting program is their partnership with Inner City Farms , who remove the compost and use it as fertilizer for their organic produce.
Inner City Farms is an urban agriculture company that converts unused lawns and gardens into mini organic farms, and their nutrient-dense produce goes to the homeowners who’ve donated the use of their land, people who’ve signed up for their Community Supported Agriculture Veggie Box program  and some of it even goes back to Trafalgars Bistro and Sweet Obsession.
GreenGood recommends  mixing 10 parts soil to one part compost fertilizer because it’s highly enriched, but Inner City Farms takes another route—they deliver the compost to worm scientist Dr. Peter Stovell, whose legion of worms break down the compost into highly nutritious dirt.
CBC News did a three-part video series  on Trafalgars Bistro and Sweet Obsession’s composting program, Dr Peter Stovell’s worms and Inner City Farms.
Trafalgars Bistro Executive Chef Matthew Villamoran
Before I left I was able to take a peek at the menu and speak to the man that uses Inner City Farms’ and other locally-sourced products to create the French and West Coast-inspired cuisine at Trafalgars Bistro, newly appointed executive chef Matthew Villamoran.
Coming from his post as senior sous chef at Raincity Grill, he says Trafalgars Bistro’s composting and recycling program and the chance to put his own stamp on the local and sustainable philosophies he’s developed throughout his career are what lured him over.
The lamb burger, $15, with aged white cheddar, arugula, onion jam, aioli, and bistro fries, is currently on Trafalgar Bistro’s lunch menu. (Image: Rachel Kwok )
Villamoran looks to local suppliers to create his menus, and sources beef from Pemberton, chicken from the Fraser Valley, duck from Chilliwack, lamb from Ashcroft, fish and seafood that is certified OceanWise, and produce from Richmond and Pemberton.
Says Thorgilsson, “We’ve really gone in the direction of farm-to-table; we’re essentially 100-mile even though we don’t classify ourselves as such. It’s all un-medicated meat and organic vegetables."
“It does change your mindset,” says Thorgilsson of learning what’s possible when it comes reducing waste and recycling, as she and the rest of the staff at Trafalgars Bistro and Sweet Obsession have been doing.
So how can we, many of us condo-dwellers with sub-par recycling programs, take a page from this story and apply it to our own lives?
- Find out what you can and cannot recycle on the City of Vancouver’s website .
- Look into more comprehensive recycling programs through companies like Urban Impact  (they recycle soft plastics like saran wrap and the plastic that holds your six-pack of beer together).
- Support companies that offer responsibly-produced products, like Trafalgars Bistro, Sweet Obsession, and Inner City Farms.
- Get your own composting set-up. GreenGood sells a household unit  (that can go out on your balcony or backyard if you don’t have space inside) nicknamed the “Red Dragon ” and the City of Vancouver offers half-price backyard composters and apartment-size worms composters.
Encourage your building to adopt Encore’s RID program , which “allows residential tenants to dispose of urban waste (e.g. appliances, furniture, metal, mattresses, electronics, batteries and paint cans) in a sustainable way.”