Tami Spain, the general manager, and Simon Virgen, the kitchen manager at Zinc Cafe, separate food waste into a colored plastic bag on Tuesday. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Coastline Pilot / October 15, 2013)

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Zinc Cafe & Market is already environmentally conscious, so when representatives from Waste Management approached the Laguna Beach restaurant about a food waste recycling program, management was all ears.

Zinc is one of 18 Laguna Beach restaurants participating in a trial program in which workers are placing food waste, such as tomato tops and shucked ears of corn, into separate bags to be recycled at Waste Management's food and organics recycling facility.

The 30-day pilot program, the first in Orange County, began Oct. 7. Other participating restaurants, selected at random, include Mozambique, Tivoli Terrace and Tivoli Too, according to Eloisa Orozco, Waste Management's Southern California area communications manager.

Restaurant employees separate and seal food waste in clear bags and place trash into separate black bags, a city news release said.

Both clear and black bags, which Waste Management provides at no charge, go into trash cans along with loose recyclables, and the company takes the scraps to its food waste and recycling facility in Orange, Orozco wrote in an email.

Workers there process the food waste into an organic bio-slurry that can be turned into clean-burning fuel similar to natural gas, she said.

The commercial recycling aligns with Zinc's values, general manager Tami Spain said.

"It's part of being green," Spain said. "Our employees don't use [the restaurant's] plastic or paper cups; they are required to bring their own."

The only cost to Zinc was buying two additional trash cans to help sort food waste, Spain said. Otherwise, it's been business as usual.

In addition to food scraps from prep cooks, any food remaining on a diner's plate is fair game for recycling, according to Spain.

"We haven't noticed a difference ... except that the [food scraps] are used for something else, whereas they might have gone to waste [in the past]."