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Seattle’s first zero waste cafe diverts 95% of trash from landfills

(Photo courtesy of Seven Coffee Roasters Market & Cafe)

Seven Coffee Roasters Market and Cafe in Ravenna believes they are Seattle’s first zero waste cafe.

“To call yourself zero waste, 90% or more of your waste stream has to be diverted from the landfill,” said Jacob Huskey, Seven’s sustainability and marketing specialist. “So we have been keeping track of how much waste we are producing and we’ve hit 95% diversion every week for nine straight weeks.”

Nothing in the cafe, from the compostable cups to the recyclable milk jugs, will end up in a landfill. It’s only things like chip bags and cookie wrappers from their small market that go into the trash.

Huskey says the City of Seattle incentivizes businesses to waste less by making compost and recyclable pickup cheaper, and by putting a higher price on landfill bound garbage.

“Our trash is only collected once a month now in the very smallest size bin. We had a 96 gallon bin collected every two weeks and now we have a 32 gallon bin collected every month. Our bill went from $56 a month for trash to just $12.50. That’s a savings of about $500 a year which, depending on the size of your business, that may be small, but it’s not for us.”

A lot of cafes will give you $.25 off your drink if you bring your own reusable cup, but Huskey says only 5-10% of customers do this. Instead, Seven charges 10 cents for a disposable cup, like grocery stores charge for plastic bags. He says this psychology has encouraged a lot more customers to bring in their cups and after only a couple of weeks, 48% of their customers do.

Grand Central Bakery has spent decades getting serious about reducing waste. Facilities director Gillian Allen-White says 85% of their waste is diverted from landfills. They have 12 cafes in Seattle and Portland, and the majority of them are zero waste, but it’s harder to do in their production facilities where they bake all their own breads and pastries and rely on vendors for ingredients that aren’t always sustainably packaged.

“You can’t get around the plastic wrap,” said Allen-White. “It’s excessive and it’s everywhere. Another unavoidable waste, and people are probably a little sensitive about this topic, is rubber gloves. Food service is required to wear rubber gloves in Washington state, but not in every state. We looked very hard at this and tried to figure out whether there’s ever going to be a change in policy to get around it. A lot of things need to be policy change, it can’t just be on our end.”

Reducing waste often involves creativity. Grand Central gets its pickles in big plastic buckets, which they donate to farmers who have plenty of uses for them. To reduce their compost heap, they give food scraps to the chicken farmer who sells them eggs, who in turn feeds them to his chickens.

“We have been able to divert 80-90% of our food waste in vegetable trim to the farmer,” said Laura Heinlein, Grand Central Bakery’s Seattle cuisine manager. “Whether it be kale stems or butternut squash peelings. Anything we can’t use to make stock.”

Seven Coffee Roasters is having an in-store event on Thursday, January 30th from 4 – 9pm to thank their customers, but mostly to educate other cafe owners by inviting their zero waste suppliers and various environmental groups to speak. They want to share what they’ve learned so more businesses can follow suit. Everyone is welcome.

“The idea of this event is to show other small businesses how easy, affordable, and accessible this transition can be,” said Huskey. “To dispel this perception that sustainability has to come as a trade off for higher costs. We made 10 to 12 changes in four to five months with relative ease and it’s bringing more people in, it’s saving us money, and obviously reducing our environmental impact.”

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