A restaurant owner in Chicago hasn’t taken out trash from his restaurant in two years, simply because there isn’t anything to take out. Justin Vranny has had a goal of running a zero waste establishment since the day he opened his quick service shop called Sandwich Me In. He sets an admirable example for other restaurants who want to conduct business in a greener and more environmentally friendly manner. The restaurant’ efforts and success have become inspiration for a short film (you can view the video via the link below.)

Since opening shop two years ago, Sandwich Me In has produced the amount of trash equivalent to what most other restaurants would produce in only an hour of operation. Much of the trash this restaurant has collected doesn’t even come from the restaurant itself. They find that customers will carry in items and leave them behind, such as empty cups from nearby coffee shops. Unfortunately, sometimes these items just can’t be recycled.

Nearly everything that the shop uses is able to be repurposed or recycled in some way. They don’t purchase products with excessive packaging that will go to waste. They run on sustainable energy and buy food from local farms. The ultimate goal is to run a zero waste establishment, and they’ve come just about as close as any restaurant can get.

Sandwich Me In Owner Justin Vranny

He hopes that other restaurants will follow his example and work toward a more sustainable restaurant operation. He practices the 3 ‘R’s of sustainable living that we all know – “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” while also adding in two of his own – “reject and refuse.” He is strongly against any junk mail and extra, unnecessary packaging. You can read more about these 5 R’s in this post about the ‘R’s of Zero Waste.

Vranny runs his household in a similar zero waste fashion, and he does it for the sake of his kids and their future. Thinking highly in regards to climate change and the environment, he had to make changes “I want to see [my kids] live the same life that I had. I don’t want to risk it, I’m not a gambler. I want to take care of the things I love the most.”

Though Vranny and his restaurant have been successful, it certainly did not come without challenges. He worked the entire operation himself for the beginning months to keep costs down. He had to get rid of time-saving conveniences, such as pre-packaged broth, in the name of avoiding the packaging. Instead, he makes his own from chicken bone scraps, which just takes more time and effort. He wanted to make sure absolutely nothing goes to waste.

The cost of running the restaurant is very low, and in its two years of operation, but business has turned a small profit. For Vranny, it’s not about the money. “I’m looking at this more widespread. If I don’t do this now, it’s not going to be done. It can be done, and it can be done for reasonable prices.” In order for no food part to go to waste, menu items are planned out so that the ingredients can intersect. “The crispy smoked skins of the chicken go onto the Cobb salad and the chicken bones make the broth for the chicken soup.” Leftover vegetables can go onto a burger, and remaining food scraps can be fed to chickens that produce the restaurant’s eggs.

His customers love the business and love the meals. They leave after eating fresh local food and they feel good. After two years, the business is finally ready to let go of their trash, and it will become a piece of art. Arguably… if their only bags of trash are repurposed into something else (being art,) did they even have any trash at all?