Sustainability in Business: Ups and downs on path towards zero waste
In December 2019, I was approached by two Zero Waste Ambassadors from the City of Missoula Energy Corps to do a waste audit of my business, Green Source. I was excited to be a part of this burgeoning program that recruits businesses to look at their waste stream and commit to getting as close to zero waste as possible.
I was also curious to see what would come up in the waste audit. Mind you, I own an organic juice bar cafe and we serve fresh or frozen produce in various ways, so I know my business is relatively low-impact. We source locally as much as possible and have very little, if any, unused produce.
Based on the audit samples, our diversion rate with composting and the current recycling program is approximately 81.7%. That's only 8.3% away from the 90% zero waste target laid out in the City of Missoula’s Zero by Fifty plan. This is something I am incredibly proud of.
It is made possible by many partners, including my staff for being conscious about what goes into the compost vs trash and Missoula Compost Collection for pickups. The fact that we are so lucky to live in a city that is promoting zero waste and actually owns its composting facility also helps.
Green Source started in 2014 as a one-woman show, Green Smoothie Delivery Service. This was a simple preorder, prepay situation. Every morning, Monday through Friday, I went to my commercial kitchen, made the pre-ordered smoothies and delivered them.
I loved the fact that there was zero waste. I knew exactly how many to make each day. But fast forward to 2016, I jumped head first into opening an actual restaurant and was faced with a steep learning curve. I knew I wanted to create as little waste as possible, so I made a menu where I could use almost everything in multiple ways to reduce waste.
For example, we use carrots and beets in salads, juices and smoothies. Greens in pretty much everything. This allows us to go through tons (no joke) of produce while it's as fresh as possible. I decided on the juice bar model of business for a brick and mortar, because I wanted to use the maximum amount of locally grown organic produce.
Positively impacting local farmers’ bottom line is a main driver for me as a business owner. My intention is to keep the farmers farming while promoting the health and vitality of my hometown. Luckily, Missoulians literally eat it up.
We make extra efforts and investments to source compostable packaging and bottle our juice in glass bottles that are returnable and reusable. We are committed to not using any single-use plastics. We have lots of indoor seating and offer takeout as well. These are the first steps as far as sustainability in business goes.
Fast forward again to March 2020. The situation with COVID-19 had us locking our doors and accepting curbside pickups only. Since then, every single item that has left our kitchen has had to be in a package.
With the explosion of tourists and so many new people moving to Missoula, we are pumping out more food than ever and purchasing more product packaging than ever. This is breaking my heart.
When talking about sustainability and zero waste in business, I can’t disregard the fact that although we are using what is deemed the best environmental option for packaging, it’s still single-use packaging. It is still manufactured in a facility using lots of resources and then trucked to Missoula. It may not be traditional plastic but it is absolutely not “sustainable” or even eco-friendly.
Take the PLA corn plastics for example: the cultivation of corn uses more nitrogen fertilizer, more herbicides and more insecticides than any other U.S. crop. Those practices contribute to soil erosion and water pollution when nitrogen runs off fields into streams and rivers.
I am afraid that the marketing by these “Green Packaging” companies has made people believe that they are making choices that have no impact on the environment. Our convenience culture has us expecting to get whatever we want whenever we want it and to definitely not feel bad about it.
I am in the position of trying to juggle staying in business (convenience is big), making ethical choices and being transparent about our waste streams. Single use packaging - in any form - is waste. Just because this waste leaves Green Source in someone else’s hands doesn’t mean it isn’t our problem, or outside of our waste stream.
We have made a concerted effort to never stop looking at reducing waste at Green Source. We just switched over to used paper grocery bags for our juice labels in place of the glossy shiny plastic ones. Missoulians are loyal, conscious consumers and have supported all of our efforts to reduce our impact.
As we continue to streamline our systems and waste streams, we are still banging our heads against the stack of single use “eco-friendly” cups. What is the solution to this packaging crisis? Normalize it. Keep a bowl, cup and silverware in your car. Maybe keep some extra jars or cups in the car in case you want to grab something for a friend. It’s not that hard. It just has to feel important enough to do it.
This keeps unnecessary waste out of the environment, reduces the use of energy to create and move the packaging and keeps business costs down. Aside from eating in the restaurant, it’s the only option that I can think of that might actually work. I am open to suggestions and would love to start a community conversation. I think we all want to do better. Missoula is full of free thinkers… bring the ideas!
Jess Maisel is the owner and operator of Green Source Missoula, LLC. You can visit their website at greensourcemissoula.com, or stop into the Higgins location for fresh, zero waste smoothie.
Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. For more, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.
Nov 27. Missoula’s WINTER Farmers Market continues in Southgate Mall. Saturdays 9am to 2pm. Until April 23. Also on Wednesdays 4:30- 7pm until Dec 22. See also info on Bozeman winter market and Butte’s winter market.
Nov 27. FreeCycles Warehouse Clearance Sale. Great deals on ready-to-ride bikes and on ‘fixer-uppers’. 10 am to 5pm at 734 S. 1st St. W. in Missoula. If you’d like to sponsor a bike for someone in need, donate at www.freecycles.org/donate
Nov 29-Dec 3. Montana Organic Association Conference will be virtual and on these new dates. It is Free — but you are encouraged to join MOA to help offset some of the costs of having to change plans. Register here.
Dec 2. Evening Owl Walk with Owl Research Institute. Maclay Flat by Missoula, 4-6pm.
Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.
Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month breakdown of world day campaigns.