This Cafe in New Orleans Has No Garbage Can!

This summer I was traveling through New Orleans and stopped into this little cafe. It’s the red building in this photo.

I always seek out places that have environmentally friendly practices but it’s not always easy. From the outside I didn’t expect them to be doing anything particularly green but after talking to the owner for a bit I was amazed to learn that they actually don’t even have a garbage can. In order for a business to have no garbage can a lot of environmentally friendly practices have got to be going on. They have to be doing something really different from most places in the USA. Their story inspired me and is one that more people should know about so I asked the owner to write a guest blog to share his experience with working toward going zero waste. I hope this will help and inspire more restaurants, cafes and businesses in general to reduce their trash and maybe even one day have no trash can! Here’s Tommy’s guest blog!

Hello, I’m Tommy L, the operator at Hey! Cafe & Coffee Roastery in New Orleans. Today I’d like to share the steps we’ve taken to reduce our dependence on landfills and advocate for reduced and more responsible disposal practices at your home or business!

When we started Hey! Cafe, it seemed obvious that we needed to have a contract for commercial waste pickup. It was only 3 years after Katrina and recycling services were nearly non existent. But that wasn’t the problem!

I just thought creating lots and lots of garbage was the sign of a successful business! It’s just what businesses do, RIGHT? After all, isn’t the success of the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans measured by the amount of garbage? I love my home New Orleans, but many things about the town are very landfill-friendly.

I regret to admit that during the first few years of business, we sent all of our waste to the landfill; however, we always have encouraged the hospitality of reusable mugs and glasses. We have also offered discounts to those who bring their own travel cup. Still, for a number of years workers and customers threw trash away as though it was of no consequence. Then we’d bring it to the curb as though it was of no consequence, all the way to the end of the waste stream where it was incinerated or mummified in landfills.

…But let me tell you, there are serious consequences to the gluttonous use of materials and the irresponsible disposal of them. Landfills poison communities, destroy habitats, hinder the decomposition of organic waste, and cause increased methane gas emission- which traps 10 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.  

It became clear that as a business operator I had a moral responsibility to rethink our disposal practices and seek alternatives while advocating for reduced and more responsible disposal. I expanded our composting and recycling program at Hey! Cafe, and planned to cancel the garbage pickup service altogether when our contract was up. We started purchasing more eco-friendly and biodegradable items. Not a lot of people realize this, but the traditional paper cups you get at coffee houses are not recyclable OR compostable, because the paper is lined with petroleum-based plastic! They are VERY landfill-friendly, and we should be avoiding them!

Then we removed our garbage can!  

Where previously we had a garbage can, we now feature a beautiful scene painted by yours truly.

Even though we had recycling and compost containers near the garbage can before this switch, guests found it all too easy to just throw everything in the garbage can! Well, not anymore!

That’s quite the dilemma!

We send less than 3 pounds of garbage a day to the landfill. Not bad for a busy cafe! We recycle and compost the rest. Customers are instructed to place all refuse into the bus tub where the dishes go. The employee then sorts all of the trash for proper disposal.  

Here’s a photo of a bag of trash from a busy day at Hey! Cafe. Note the quarter for reference!

And most of this trash came from outside our shop!

Next, we’re working to reduce the amount of trash we recycle. We’re proud to have canned the garbage can, but we are still recycling a large amount. Recently, we implemented a DIY soda water system with reusable CO2 tanks and soda bottles. With this method, 1 liter of soda water costs us less than 5 cents and has no packaging whatsoever.

….which leads me to my next point!

Does it cost money for a small business to go landfill-free?

No! Hardly anything! In fact, you’ll probably SAVE money!  

…and don’t underestimate the promotional value of making more responsible choices. Our customers love it, and many have told me that it’s what sets us apart, and its why they keep coming back!  

The money that we used to spend for disposal is now being spent more ethically supporting local composting networks and recycling facilities.  We save a TON of money every year by encouraging the use of reusable mugs and glassware.

We also have felt more involved in our community by reaching out to neighbors who find creative uses for our pallets and burlap from the shipments of coffee we receive! And seen some great Mardi Gras costumes!

But what about when we DO have garbage?

It’s terribly shameful, but it does happen. Usually I throw out our daily 1-3 pound trash bag in a city trash can by the bus stop. If we have larger waste, like construction debris or the like, I throw it in our gracious neighbors dumpster! HUGE shout-out to The Club Miss Mae’s! Thanks for putting up with our TRASH! We obviously aren’t perfect but we are working hard to be a part of the solution toward a more sustainable future.

If you have any questions about how your business can be more landfill-free, I encourage you to email me at [email protected]. Thank you for reading!