Gordon College News Service
(This story appeared March 14 in The Gloucester Times.)
Essex, MA – As Woodman’s gears up for another busy summer as Essex’s iconic seafood restaurant, the Woodman family tries to balance how to become more environmentally friendly while maintaining the “eat in the rough” feeling it’s known for on the North Shore.
Started in 1914 by Chubby Woodman, the restaurant has been a family-run business for 97 years. But with all families, each generation brings change. Woodman’s is no different. Vanessa Woodman, 27, is part of the fourth generation to work in the business, and currently one of 38 family members who work full or part time there. She’s also one of the advocates for making it a greener place.
“There’s been a lot of progress,” said Vanessa, who does social media marketing for Woodman’s. “Originally, we weren’t recycling anything and we were using styrofoam plates, chowder containers, and even coffee cups. Those were two of the biggest problems.”
The use of styrofoam at Woodman’s was discontinued around four years ago. They now use plates made from recycled paper that are also biodegradable. In addition, recycling efforts have increased. They recycle cans, glass, and left over cardboard that’s escaped grease stains from the fried food. But it hasn’t always been this way.
“Years ago we did nothing,” said Steve Woodman, co-owner of the restaurant with his brother Doug Woodman. “Everything went in the trash.”
The change came as a result of two efforts. The first was encouragement by the younger generations. Nearly seven years ago, while working for the catering branch of Woodman’s, Vanessa and her cousin Jonathan kept pushing to separate bottles and cans in order to recycle. They also began receiving questions from customers about their methods of trash disposal.
“They’re the ones who brought it up,” said Steve, who is Vanessa’s uncle. (Her father is Doug.) “Then we started looking into it and saying this is something that I think we can do and should do.” Eventually, the idea became part of Woodman’s current operations.
But it was only last year that Woodman’s put it in print. Vanessa, who rewrote the employee’s training manual, included this environmentally friendly attitude in the global values section, which reads: “As a way to lessen our impact on the environment, we also choose to stop using styrofoam products. We now use recycled paper products and both reuse and recycle whenever we can.”
The second effort came from local trash and recycling companies. As more programs grew, recycling became an option that was no longer hindered by Woodman’s busy summer schedule and inefficient manpower to drop off the trash. Now Woodman’s uses Hiltz Waste Disposal out of Gloucester.
“They’ve developed programs that will come pick it up and make it cost effective and that’s what helps us,” said Steve. There is no cost for the recycling disposal, only a small fee for the pick up. “It (the fee) makes it worth while if you’ve got any idea of the environment.”
For the last two years, Hiltz has expanded its recycling services for customers like Woodman’s. “The more recycling they do, the less trash they’re going to have so it’s going to cut their trash costs,” said John Tognazzi of Hiltz.
While recycling is one issue, the amount of trash Woodman’s generates during its busy summer season is another. During a typical summer week, Woodman’s can serve between 2,000-2,500 pounds of lobster.
The restaurant dumps all its non-recyclable rubbish—including lobster shells—into a trash compactor, which in the summer is emptied close to twice a week. When the compactor, is full holds around 10 tons of trash. All the trash from the catering that Woodman’s does is also brought back to the restaurant for disposal.
Woodman’s has also switched from bleach and other harsh cleaners to Shaklee non-toxic biodegradable products that break down within 30-60 days. “The term biodegradability in the U.S. is so wide ranged. Stuff can break down in five or ten years and they still say it’s biodegradable,” said Steve. “What we try to do is work with another standard.”
There are no plans to move to washable utensils. It would be too costly to expand the restaurant to the appropriate size needed for washing and storage. There would also be added costs from the loads of water.
Composting is another idea that has been discussed, but is something that may have to wait for when the fourth generation takes over the family business. But until that time, as Vanessa’s rewritten manual reads, Woodman’s hopes to continue developing its social awareness and seek other ways to improve its role in the global community.
“These younger kids are just more aware,” Doug said.