Does your business have a vision or purpose around sustainability?
Yes, we have a pretty clear idea about what impact we would like to create on society. Living sustainably is, as far as we know, only a problem for humans. Most other species don’t have the issues we do. That is our short-sightedness in exchanging our own personal convenience for serious ecological (negative) impact.
So being humans too, we also suffer this problem of convenience. We too run cars on fossil fuels, use electricity and wrap things in plastic to comply with health rules.
However, we became more and more conscious of our impact, and simply started to make better choices. It doesn’t always work, but we trust that if everyone will think twice before consumption (or three or four times), there is a reasonable balance to be found. There is a line that is simply not necessary to cross in order to retain a fairly comfortable 1st world lifestyle.
We decided to impose these small changes onto our customers. We aren’t special, except we care about the future. If we can do it, we like to believe everybody can, including our customers. Hence, we sort of became ambassadors for showing people that some habits can be changed fairly easily.
As a prime example, if we don’t provide any disposable containers (typically coffee cups), our customers have no other choice, but to comply. And people seem to like it. Sometimes, we all need a little help with being responsible.
How do you manage waste within your business?
a) minimise waste (food and packaging)
Wherever possible. Arnolds Wodonga (grocery supplier) is re-using their boxes, so we keep them safe for them when we can. We prefer local suppliers, who can wrap orders in bigger chunks, to minimise packaging. And where we can’t do much (for us it’s a lot of milk bottles), we try to pass as many as possible to local growers (they re-use them as slug deterrent).
In terms of food, we have a very flexible menu (changing nearly weekly) focusing on seasonal and local produce (where possible), both minimising travelled miles. Our dishes are carefully designed, so customers don’t leave any leftovers (yeah, our plates get mostly polished clean), while still being well satisfied. And the continuous fresh cooking ensures the fast turnover of stock, so rarely things go to waste.
We also have a custom built computer system for pre-ordering food. Each time we cook for takeaway, we know exactly how many meals. Again, allowing us to only cook what we know will be sold.
b) manage what waste is created (what systems are in place)
We are a very small cafe with very limited storage space. Recyclable waste goes straight into designated bins. So does our general waste. All of our organic waste (compost + coffee grounds) goes straight to our home compost (or our staff occasionally take’s it for their chooks). The only waste that piles up is cardboard boxes that can’t be re-used. These get collected and taken to our local transfer station for recycling roughly twice a month.
Do you pay for waste collection ie via rates or commercially?
We utilise the shire provided bins via rates. For general waste, we use about half of the provided capacity. The recycle bin does get filled regularly (providing the cardboard is collected and shifted to the transfer station separately). Organic waste goes to our gardens.
Have you seen any reduction in operating costs whilst reducing your waste?
We have started off having all the above systems in place, and currently, there is not much we can do better. Beechworth is a small town and supply (for example milk) is limited. As much as it’s heartbreaking to go through so much packaging, we still are running a business and as such, we need to stay viable / competitive.
We heard that last year during COVID you didn’t just switch to single use take away packaging? Is that right? How was that received and what did you do instead?
That’s right. We haven’t switched to single use. And never will. We would rather close the shop than to get to that point. And we like to believe it has been received really well (especially amongst the locals).
Covid gave us (as in humanity) a great insight into how much our behaviour impacts nature. When the whole world stopped, we once again saw crystal clear Ganga river, Venice where you could drink the water straight from the channels, views over big cities where new sights were available as the smog has dissipated.
And then, the fear kicked in again. Once again skyrocketing the use of plastic… We stayed calm and we used common sense. And used the opportunity of being at a downturn (having more time on hands) to develop systems that would allow us to stay covid safe, while not reverting to disposables.
The idea was simple: Completely separate handling of outgoing vs incoming containers. The first bit is no different to any food going out (even in a disposable container).
The second part was trickier, but not impossible at all. First, collect used containers in a dedicated area (outside). Then, shift the containers aside for about 2 weeks (in case it would have been contaminated). To end the cycle, we would dedicate a day where we only focus on sterilising the containers used in our commercial dishwasher while using proper PPE and one way flow to rule out any cross contamination.
I used to do this personally as it is actually quite tricky to get it right.
Any tips for those at home?
Well, yes, not from my head (credit goes to Swami Sivananda): “If you want to change the world, you gotta first change yourself”.
What about at home? Do you do things differently there?
Not really. We of course try to be as frugal as possible at home, however saying that, we too live “normal” lives and we too like to enjoy our conveniences.
I wouldn’t consider ourselves as obsessive eco-maniacs. All we do is just put that little bit of thought into our actions. Always asking “do I really need this?” Is there a better way? Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t. It is virtually impossible to live in a first world country without zero impact on the earth. Just not gonna happen.
I for example, drink 3 coffees a day. If I can do it without 3 disposable cups (how much is it going to impact my convenience? vs the earth?) I’ll give up the convenience.
Likewise, as an example, we use LPG in our kitchen. Perhaps not sustainable fossil fuel, but we need to stay realistic and put things into perspective. One can’t run a commercial kitchen on a wood fired stove. If there is a will, there is a way… (maybe our next project).
As a bottom line, I think it’s better if people make small changes (with a good impact) over long period of time then go all in only to revert back to old habits after a while.
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