Don't get me wrong, renting wine glasses would have created almost no waste, but they also cost more, come wrapped in plastic, and are heavy to ship, let alone carry up to the second floor of our event space. The benefit of using biodegradable cups was that they were light (less expensive on travel), inexpensive, made from renewable resources, and a great way to introduce cradle-to-cradle products to all our guests. The cradle-to-cradle concept was illustrated in William McDonough's and Michael Braungart's eponymous book which explains how ecologically sound design principles are good for business and the ecology. It's an inspiring read for anyone interested in zero waste systems and a sustainable environment. It's also printed on recycled plastic! So if you want to, you can read it while in the bath or at the beach, worry free.
Finding a source for our eco-cups was the first step. We discovered an amazing company in Colorado called Eco-Products. They make all sorts of cool biodegradable food service and office supplies, maybe your office manager should check them out.
While most disposable cups are made from petroleum, that insidious plastic that never goes away, our eco-cups are made out of corn, and will totally biodegrade within 45-60 days, you can even print a logo or message on them.
Eco-Products also helped us calculate our CO2 emissions created by shipping the cups cross-country. The idea of offsetting emissions is a little like passing the job onto someone else, but can also do a lot of good. We looked into DrivingGreen.com, a program that assists livestock farms in capturing the methane gas generated from animal waste, and turning it into a renewable source for energy. Flying biodegradable cups across the country doesn't make a carbon-neutral event but we hope that by supporting companies that support sustainable production, more of them will set up shop closer to home.
At the event, our guests were encouraged to hold onto their cups for refills, and at the end of the night, the cups were collected in separate waste containers. Our next challenge was figuring out a way to keep these corn cups out of landfill, and the solution came from Action Carting, a waste management service that specializes in recycling and organic matter composting.
Talking on the phone with Adam Pasquale, an Action Carting representative, I learned about all the ways they are minding their own global footprint. Most of their vehicles run on biodiesel, they print all their office literature on recycled paper, they use only biodegradable cleaners for their trucks and facilities, AND their offices are heated with waste oil from their vehicles. Wow.
So what happened to our used corn cups after Action Carting picked them up? Because they're made out of organic material, they were tipped into a massive compost pile made of food waste, plant waste and natural wood waste all which is gathered from local restaurants and landscaping facilities. Just like garden compost, here the organic matter was left to decompose reaching a temperature of 50-65 degrees Celsius (what's that in Fahrenheit?). After 120 days, what's left is high grade soil that is screened and ready to be sold to the market. Action Carting even said they'd provide us with biodegradable trash bags for our future events.
This is the story of how we tried to take responsibility for the waste we create. We have a long road ahead of us but one change at a time can make the difference. Maybe you can use some of these resources for your own end of year festivities. Share your stories and suggestions with us...we want learn from you as well.