Is it possible to run a zero-waste cafe?
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Sustainability is currently one of the most pressing issues at every level of the coffee supply chain. In it, many experts have launched initiatives focusing on reducing the volume of waste generated by coffee shops to minimize the impact of coffee production on the environment. “Zero waste” is one of the methods that coffee shops are interested in and applied. So how to run a zero-waste cafe? Let’s find out with 43 Factory Coffee Roaster!
What is zero waste?
Zero waste is a commonly used term when it comes to sustainability, but it doesn’t have a clear definition or official certifications. It is also unclear when the term “zero waste” was first coined. Some reports suggest its origins date back to the 1970s when Chemist Paul Palmer discussed how to reuse “clean” waste chemicals produced in Silicon Valley. However, in 1997, the Resource Recovery Association of California announced a “zero waste” goal as part of its agenda for the new millennium. This is considered the first time that formal zero-waste management practices have been implemented in the United States.
Basically, the zero waste concept is based on the elimination of waste, mainly through the reuse and recycling of products, materials, and packaging. According to the International Zero Waste Coalition, zero-waste operations must reuse, recover or recycle these products or materials, and ensure that they are not incinerated or released into the soil, water or air that pose a threat to human health or the environment. It is driven by a growing need to reduce (or eliminate) the level of waste generated by coffee businesses – including disposable cups, lids, packaging, napkins and straws. The ultimate goal of this measure is to completely prevent the generation of waste. This is a daunting task considering the staggering 91% of all plastic produced is not recycled, but instead ends up in landfills and oceans around the world.
Advantages and disadvantages of zero-waste cafes
Currently, many models of zero-waste cafes are starting to become more popular in countries around the world. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of them?
A zero-waste cafe cannot operate without its core values. The owner needs to establish a long-term orientation, clear standards and rules and make all personnel and business activities comply with it. This means careful planning, extensive investments including training staff, replacing some equipment with more sustainable alternatives, and informing customers of new systems like the reusable cup program. However, this is not an easy task and requires a lot of effort and finance. Not to mention, if it is a long-established coffee chain, the transition to a new model is even more time-consuming, expensive and has the risk of reducing revenue because of customer habits.
Despite the challenges, there are clear benefits to businesses when incorporating zero-waste management practices into their coffee business. Marion Vignot – General Manager of Responsible Cafés explains that adopting zero-waste activities is an effective way to respond to climate change and have a positive impact on the community. Besides, the concept of zero waste can also attract consumers, especially young people. According to Lenka Kriz, co-owner of Cat & Cow Coffee, she was initially unsure how customers would react to the zero-waste cafe (such as not providing disposable cups). But most of them have been quite supportive with the majority of customers having brought their own reusable cups, being loyal and creating a strong community.
In fact, many studies also show that implementing zero-waste practices can actually increase a coffee shop’s appeal to customers. According to a survey in the UK on consumer shopping preferences, more than half of those surveyed are interested in food and beverage businesses that include zero-waste activities.
In addition, up to 37% of people are interested in food products made with recycled materials, 43% want to buy products using more sustainable packaging processes, showing that consumers are increasingly interested in waste-free products and packaging.
Moreover, in addition to customers, human resources also tend to love working at businesses that care and apply zero-waste activities. More and more people are looking for work that aligns with their values, says Lenka. An environmentally responsible business will attract more environmentally conscious employees resulting in a lower turnover rate.
How to run a zero-waste cafe
It is very difficult to achieve zero waste goals in the coffee business. Because coffee often creates a significant amount of waste from packaging, cups, lids, takeaway straws to leftover milk and used coffee grounds. Furthermore, Marion says that finding the right information can overwhelm owners because waste rules can change frequently.
While there are many obstacles to becoming a zero-waste cafe, coffee shop owners can start by doing some research before proceeding. The first thing you can do is contact your nearest waste disposal agency to better understand what materials and items they collect, or even connect with zero-waste bloggers. Once more information is available, the restaurant’s management can assess what items or materials can be recycled or composted instead of going to a landfill. When managing a coffee shop, Marion said, she discovered that about 95% of the waste that goes into the trash is actually compostable or recyclable. This includes used coffee grounds, paper, bags and leftovers, all of which can be composted, or milk bottles, paper boxes and some soft plastics.
Next, it must be ensured that as little waste is sent to the landfill by proper disposal. If not disposed of properly, even biodegradable and compostable materials can last intact for hundreds of years and release harmful gases, so proper waste disposal is essential. Many label packaging suppliers offer compostable products but do not explain that they require specialized facilities for disposal. As a result, some coffee shop owners use compostable cups, but they don’t know that they’re certified industrially compostable (meaning they need to be sent to a composting plant).
Furthermore, no matter what zero-waste practices are implemented in their coffee shop, owners need to communicate them effectively to customers. This can range from asking them to bring their own container when purchasing retail coffee beans to informing them of the correct use of the waste system or the benefits of zero waste to themselves, their families and the environment.
While running a completely zero-waste cafe is an impossible task, implementing more zero-waste operations is certainly achievable for many coffee businesses.
The benefits of zero-waste operations are undeniable. Coffee shops that care about sustainability can help improve the negative impact on the environment and the industry as a whole. But any transition requires extensive investment, time and commitment. Therefore, as a consumer, you can support cafes that make zero-waste efforts like XLIII Coffee – A brand developed from the forerunner 43 Factory Coffee Roaster to join hands to protect the environment!