To begin my research into the greening of coffee establishments, I made a visit to a local Tully's a few days ago. My purpose: to find out whether they serve organic coffee, and how they recycle and reduce waste. I found the staff to be very helpful, and learned a great deal about the steps they are taking to be more environmentally friendly; and what could be done better.
Not too long ago - I was very impressed that Tully's had made the decision to serve only Organic, Fair Trade coffees. With a good cup of organic Joe hard to come by in the umbiquitous big brand coffee shops - like Starbucks, this was a welcome bit of news.
A staff member described how before the transition to all organic coffee at Tully's was complete - the economy went south - and plans were scrapped. One can only assume, due to the higher cost of organic coffee.
Another staff member explained that they had a compost bin - supplied for free - and were beginning to use it for food waste, coffee grounds, etc. A local compost and recycling business, Cedar Grove, is on the forefront of forming partnerships with businesses to compost waste, and help source/test/recommend compostable materials.
This particular store also had a basket by the front door where he said used coffee grounds were packaged up and available for free to customers who wished to enrich their gardens with it. I noticed the basket was empty at the time - and a staff member mentioned it was up to the barista on duty as to whether the grounds were packaged up each day or composted. It being early September - late in the growing season - chances are there may not be too much of a demand now.
Speaking of composting - I asked whether Tully's would have a place for customers to put their hot coffee paper cups - so they could be composted. The staff person said that up until recently they had used International Paper's ecotainer paper cup, as noted on the Tully's website, since September 2007; from the IP website:
Since launching ecotainer® hot cups with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in July 2006, the product line has grown to include cup buddy®, food containers and cold cups. Globally, more than 60 distributors and 80 brand owners have chosen to make a difference by switching to these products. Through their efforts, more than 650 million ecotainer cups and containers have replaced other single use packaging made of foam, plastic and the standard polyethlene coated paper products.
Combined individual consumers in the United States alone use about 40 billion paper and 35 billion plastic and foam cold cups every year. 16 billion paper hot cups and 25 billion foam hot cups are also used in the United States every year. Together, single consumers can impact the direction taken by retailers and ultimately by packaging suppliers like International Paper.
To put it into terms we can fathom, from the Green Mountain Coffee Roaster's (GMCR) website:
Last year, Americans used more than 14 billion disposable paper cups. Put end to end, those cups could circle the earth 55 times.
And what impact has the ecotainer had on our environment; GMCR puts it best:
So far, we’ve kept nearly a half a million pounds of petrochemicals out of landfills by using these unique, sustainable materials. Not only does the cup feature an eco-friendly liner, but the material used to create the lining is made from corn grown in the United States and is manufactured in a greenhouse-gas-neutral environment. It’s a small step toward reducing our environmental footprint, but enough to receive the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 2007 Sustainability Award.
Turns out I was learning a whole lot of new acronyms for the green products and organizations. For example - I found out the fully compostable ecotainer was a BPI approved, hot cup.
The kicker is, Tully's has stopped using the ecotainer at the store I visited - if not all their stores (waiting on an email to confirm). They discovered (or customers found) that the cup leaked. So until technology produced a hot beverage paper cup that was leak-proof, Tully's had opted out of the program. I have emailed Tully's, International Paper and Cedar Grove to get confirmation or additional information, and am awaiting their reply.
Of note: The University of Washington recently went totally compostable - which I witnessed first hand when I was at a conference at the Seattle campus. I was astonished that all of their eating utensils, plates, food packaging and cups were compostable or recyclable. Interestingly enough, they use the same ecotainer for hot beverages - so I will need to investigate whether they have also experienced leakage.
Beyond composting, Tully's does encourage recycling - and has a container for customers to recycle plastic cups. I wondered if the store actually engaged in much recycling, so I asked another staff member whether their milk cartons were recyclable. He answered with a smile that indeed they were, so I followed up with a question as to whether they recycled these containers. He sheepishly admitted that they most likely were thrown in the trash. I did not want to wear out my welcome - so saved my detailed questions about Tully's recycling for the email I would send to Tully's later.
On a positive note, Tully's will give customers a 10 cent discount if they bring their own re-usable cup. An encouraging step in the re-use, reduce and recycle process.
Next - I wondered how does one get a cup of organic espresso at Tully's? A Tully's staff member said that although they may not have it available for my double tall, split Americano with room (my economical cup of Joe) - they would be happy to make me a French press with one of the two Organic, Fair Trade coffees they sold (Compradre Blend, and Evergreen Blend) and serve it to me in the store in a real, ceramic mug. Nice option if drinking in the store - not such a quick option when on the run.
Of note, Tully's was purchased by Green Mountain Coffee in March 2009. Green Mountain seems to embrace and encourage sustainable practices in its corporate culture and its production plants. I will report back to you as I discover what is in the works at Tully's - for sustainable, consistent recycling and composting practices.
Gal Noir (that would be me) will continue to investigate coffee/espresso places of business to discover how they make a smaller waste footprint - and report back on findings. In the meantime - I wish you an aromatic, tasty brew that makes your day just a little nicer!