There were a few raised eyebrows at the Flying Star coffee bar early Saturday morning in the Popejoy Hall lobby durring the 2015 TEDxABQ Main Event. Staffers from Knowaste™, an Albuquerque start-up that offers zero-waste services to local public events, had just removed the lone trash can adjacent to the coffee condiments table.
Event patrons appeared to be mildly dis-oriented when the familiar, taken-for-granted disposal option for their sweetener packets, stir sticks and tiny creamer portions were replaced with a three-bin system (compost, recycle and trash). Keenly aware of their needs, Knowaste™ staff members stood by, patiently and pleasantly offering support and guidance for each customer.
While many in the line were intent upon their quickest option for disposal and the relative ‘freedom’ of casual conversation, others were more intrigued. They wondered why… the Knowaste™ staff, having offered a recycling option, was directing them to ‘trash’ their creamer portions, ostensibly made of plastic? They hadn’t considered that the small cream residue and the hanging foil ‘lid’ were deemed ‘contamination’ by the recycling processor or, that such a small, weightless discard has virtually no value on the secondary commodities market.
Conversely, discarded cups, some empty, others a quarter to a half full were gladly accepted into the compost collection. Flying Star had made the conscientious decision to switch out their cups with a branded, 3rd party certified compostable cup lined with plant based resin (PLA).
Composting acceptable waste materials rather than sequestering them in a landfill serves the community in many important ways. Aside from reducing the cost to taxpayers for landfill use and creating jobs in the attractive ‘green’ sector, finished compost can transform static southwestern soils into vibrant micro-communities. As such, the water carrying capacity and nutrient cycling capabilities of the soil are greatly enhanced, contributing to greater fertility and reduced erosion.
Thus began the live-action, zero-waste engagement, offering the TEDxABQ attendees a new perspective on wasteful habits and how they can be re-aligned with a new, circular economy.
Beth Haley, Director of Programming and Operations at TEDxABQ, went on to affirm the zero-waste intention stating, ‘I think we’d see the cost of the compostable service ware and Knowaste™ services were only slightly more than we would have spent on renting additional trash containers and paying UNM to remove the waste.’ Including these cost considerations together with the social and environmental benefits (aka full-cost accounting), sustainability measures such as zero waste event services prove to be a powerful value-added strategy.
By mid-afternoon, the mood of the folks searching out the source-separation collection stations had changed dramatically. Each was eager to play along, guessing as to which bin their respective discards belonged and pausing for clarification in instances of confusion.
On the day, 412 total pounds of material were managed by Knowaste™, with all but 7% having been diverted for beneficial reuse. Maybe not a zero in the strictest sense but, at 93% diversion, still a remarkable achievement.