So, we've got some good news and some bad news.
The bad news, we did not reach out goal and we are not a 100% Trash Free cafe... yet.
The good news, we've learned a lot on the process.
We decided it would be best to share our failures and what we learned so as to have a greater overall impact. Maybe others can learn from this. It would certainly be easy to brush this missed goal under the rug and forget about it, but we truly do care about sustainability and transparency. We want you to hold us accountable, and if you care about sustainability we want your support, and we also want you to feel confident that we are trying our best to always be better.
Goals are great, meeting them is awesome... not meeting them is painful, but as a myriad of coaches, bosses, and scholars have said, you learn the most through failure. You've got to study the failure, take lessons from it and go forward.
Let's jump right into some introspection...
Why didn't we meet these goals? Before we answer that, let us first say that these are not excuses. These are all things that could have been accomplished if we had given them an ample amount of time, money, and energy... nothing seems impossible about this goal.
Here's why we didn't meet our goal:
#1) Recycling - after announcing our goal fo becoming Trash Free by 2018, we learned a lot about recycling real fast. Turns out you can't just naively recycle anything that's kinda made out of plastic or paper. Many times, the packaging our products we use behind the bar come in isn't easily recycled. There are many compounds, chemicals, and coatings that make the simple act of separating these items insanely difficult. So we quickly learned almost everything that came into the shop was not easily recycled.
#2) "Compostable" - we started buying cups, lids, straws, etc that were "compostable" but later learned this means they must be processed at a commercial composting facility, which we don't have in Marquette. Read more about the composting issue here.
#3) Staffing - we had to dial back staffing hours a bit to help with cashflow through our first Marquette winter, which meant we couldn't pay someone on staff to just worry about the project as we had when we first set out on it.
#4) Current trash collection process - our current process for separating out the streams of trash and recyclables was not being seen all the way through. The building that we operate out of has a few other long-term and short-term tenants and our trash and recyclables were constant getting mixed in the bins out back. Primarily it had to do with well intentioned short-term renters not understanding the system and mixing things up... this would then require re-sorting or just meant that it was all being considered as trash by those in charge of collection.
Here's what we were able to accomplish:
#1) 100% of our biodegradable matter is composted. We recently started working with a compost collector who distributes our compost throughout community gardens in the area. All of our coffee grounds, citrus peals, spices, etc are all used to enrich the area's soil.
#2) We were able to considerably cut down on how many bags of trash we send to the landfill. When we started this process we didn't have a great way to track the amount of trash we produced or a way for customers to know how to separate things out. We were able to establish some simple ways to start sorting waste and it helped cut down on trash production considerably. We also kept a monthly tally of bags of trash sent to the landfill and set goals to lower that each month. We are in the process of redeveloping the customer facing format for tracking trash production and will be releasing something soon.
#3) We have been listening to customers and finding solutions for other waste issues such as packaging, consumables, and multi-use bar wares and service vessels. We've implemented a ton of small standards around the cafe and roastery - most all because of a customer or staff suggestion.
Our next steps:
#1) We will continue to educate ourselves about recycling and proper waste management. We're dedicated to finding solutions for recycling more of the products that come through our door as well as seeking out products that are made in a sustainable and "green" way. As a business that buys most of our products in bulk, we've got a bunch of product to burn through before we can continue down this path (example: switching from current commercially compostable plastic straws to paper or metal straws), however, know that we are committed to thoughtfully buying products. When our current supply runs out we will be seeking out the most green and environmentally responsible solution possible.
#2) Along the same lines as above, we are also seeking out packaging materials for roasted coffee that is more environmentally friendly. Again, we have much stock to use before making a full switch, but it is in the works and we are currently looking for alternatives.
#3) We are also seeking out other options for more thorough recycling. We have been in touch with other businesses and community members to seek out solutions.
#4) Lastly, we have some really big news coming soon that's about to change all of this for the better. We're taking a big step and will be sharing soon how this next thing is going to really help push us to becoming trash free.
Our new goal:
We still want to be 100% trash free and think it is achievable, we just have a hard time putting a time line on it. We've now realized there's a huge educational piece to this and it will need to be a shift in company and customer culture to be successful, that's going to take time, energy, and a multitude of pieces lining up perfectly. We're committed to it and want you, our customers, to hold us accountable through this process. And if you care a lot of about this issue, tell us what you know and ask what you can do to help. So, all that said, our current goal is to always be moving forward on becoming trash free. We know this is a little more abstract then before, but this is a massive process and what we can do now is take one step at a time... little steps, big steps - they will eventually help us arrive at our overarching goal of being 100% trash free!