Maria Islas, a cook at Miguel’s Baja Grill, sorts glass and plastic recycling in the bins behind their restaurant on Main Street. The restaurant recycles cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum and fryer oil. It also feeds it food scraps to pigs and chickens.

A few Moab restaurants are increasingly combining their commitment to serve great food with a commitment to employ eco-friendly practices.

Americans eat out about four times a week on average, which translates to about 208 times a year per person, according to a recent report by the National Restaurant Association. With one in five meals eaten in a restaurant, diners who strive to reduce their own carbon footprint have options in Moab to dine green.

Buck’s Grill House took eating out of the garden to a fine dining experience. Owner and head chef Tim Buckingham said his desire to start an eco-friendly restaurant started in the 80s when he was living in California.

“They started recycling early and water-conserving and that got embedded in me there,” said Buckingham. “When I moved back to Moab in 1991, it just was a part of me, so I implemented that into my restaurant. Especially out here, being in this environment, it seems like the right thing to do.”

The first step the Buckingham took was recycling. Though the recycling program in Moab in the 90s wasn’t very extensive, Buck’s took the initiative to start small. Now the restaurant recycles everything they can at the recycling center.

Buckingham now even has the used fryer oil hauled away to be recycled.

Non-local food products travel on average 1,750 miles to reach their destination, according to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. Shipping 1000 pounds of food that far by truck produces 519.3 pounds of carbon dioxide. Buying food locally has a comparatively miniscule carbon footprint.

Buckingham has a kitchen garden in back of the restaurant that grows herbs and now a few vegetables, including tomatoes, squash, and melons. They plan on relocating the garden to La Sal and expanding it in order to provide only fresh, local vegetables for their customers.

“Now I can grow what I need as opposed to relying on someone else. It’s good to know that we’re more part of the process — earth to table, you know,” Buckingham said.

Paradox Pizza’s motto expressed their commitment to being green. The restaurant “strives to provide guests with the freshest, most natural ingredients,” by buying everything they can locally. They are “proud to recycle, compost, and use packaging made from renewable, biodegradable materials.”

The eatery provides compostable to-go containers and utensils for their customers. Compostable containers are made out of plant materials and can resemble plastic or cardboard. It must be able to decompose into biomass that is able to support plant life at the same rate as paper, according to the American Society for Testing & Materials.

They recycle in the kitchen and offer recycling bins for their customers to use in the dining area as well.

“People have this idea that they’re throwing stuff ‘away.’ There is no ‘away,’” said Paradox Pizza manager Heather Sudbury, “A lot of people who are anti-recycling want to talk about if it’s cost-effective, but it’s a bigger picture than cost-effective. We’re going to run out of room for this trash we keep producing, so let’s find other things to do with it.”

Paradox does a lot of little things to be green. They keep their thermostat set at 78 degrees or above in the summer and keep their front doors closed. This reduces energy consumption from air conditioning, which can get very high in the Moab heat.

A report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization stated that 30 percent of all food produced in the world is wasted. Paradox puts their waste to use by composting their food scraps.

“[Going green] really is pretty easy: you just do the things that need to be done,” Sudbury said. “Ultimately, it’s taking the initiative to say, ‘Hey, this is important, we’re going to do it.’”

Miguel’s Baja Grill cuts down on their landfill input by feeding chickens and pigs their food scraps. The restaurant also recycles cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum, and fryer oil.

“I believe that in the future we’ll be strip-mining landfills for stuff that’s in there because we’ve buried all kinds of stuff that should be recycled,” said Miguel’s Baja Grill owner, Dave Bodner. “[Recycling] also makes total economic sense ¬– not to have five trash pickups a week when I can have one and the rest gets picked up once to take to recycling.”

Recycling is Bodner’s main focus, but the restaurant takes other environmentally friendly measures as well.

The grill provides compostable to-go containers for their customers.

Miguel’s also has shares in renewable energy through Rocky Mountain Power. They hope to someday run entirely on alternative energy.

Renewable energy shares can be purchased through Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Renewable Energy program. The program buys wind-, solar-, and biomass-produced energy on the business’ behalf and makes sure it is delivered to the regional power system. For a relatively low cost, the Blue Sky program can help businesses reduce their footprint by a minimum of 1400 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.

Milt’s offers hamburgers and milkshakes with a low carbon footprint. The diner recycles everything to save both the planet and money.

“I’ve been recycling forever,” says owner BC Laprede, “Why wouldn’t you do it? For one thing, it’s cheaper.”

Having their dumpster picked up costs $35, while having the same amount picked up for recycling costs only $10.

“Doesn’t everyone recycle?” Laprede asked.

Instead of taking the traditional route of recycling their fryer oil, Milt’s opted for reusing. They sell their used fryer oil to Coyote Shuttles, a local bike and river shuttle company. The business uses it for biodiesel in their fleet of Volkswagen buses.

Milt’s also buys everything that they can locally. Their signature milkshakes include milk from McClish Dairy and their burgers are made from grass-fed beef raised by a local rancher.

Milt’s service consists mostly of to-go orders, according to Laprede. In order to prevent excess waste from that part of their business, they use compostable to-go boxes. For their dine-in customers, they use reusable baskets and offer reusable cups for water. The business hopes to continue to seek ways to make both take-out and dine-in greener options for their customers.

“This green thing has been going on for quite a while, so I was already planning to do it when I got this place,” Laprede said. “When my wife and I bought it five years ago, it just seemed normal to do that.”

Restaurants surveyed in Moab said that going green saved them money and was fairly simple. The hardest part, most said, was deciding to make the change.

“Moab has always been hip and cool and a good place to do more forward-thinking, green types of things,” said Sudbury, “I think that there is a lot of awareness community-wide and that it’s just second-nature to people here to recycle.”

With Moab’s extensive recycling program and pick-up available through Green Solutions, recycling was usually the first step for most restaurants.

“We started out with just basic recycling,” Buckingham said.

There are many local businesses and individuals who use old cooking oil as biodiesel like Coyote Shuttles. Farms will often take vegetable scraps to feed their animals, like McClish Family Dairy.

Going green isn’t always easy in the restaurant world, but Tim Buckingham has advice for restaurants trying to take the first steps.

“Look at the resources at the recycle center and start there,” Buckingham said. “Then think beyond just recycling. Conserving water, composting food scraps, having efficient toilets and faucets and dish machines. It’s the whole gamut.”