Start Today #1: Coffee Cups & Compost

Start Today #1: Coffee Cups & Compost

This is the first in a series of articles about the efforts we’re making at S&Co to reduce the ecological footprint of the bookshop and café. Our passionately eco-minded bookseller Karolina meets with Maiwenn, the café manager, to discuss recent initiatives Maiwenn and her team have made, including setting up a partnership with a local composting company, as well as the challenges they’ve faced.

Karolina: Hello Maïwenn. You seem to be someone for whom environmental awareness matters a great deal, and who recognises that the best way to enact big change is through small steps. As manager of a busy café, how have you tried to do things differently?

Maïwenn: Hi Karolina. At the moment we are mainly concentrating on reducing the waste the café produces on a daily basis. Our first act was to stop handing out plastic straws and make sure our takeaway cups were biodegradable. While the carbon footprint of biodegradable cups is lower than traditional ones, they are still not ideal. That’s why we ask our customers to come with their own reusable mugs if they can. To encourage this new habit we offer a 50 cent discount to people who bring their own cup to the café.

We’ve always recycled bottles and cartons but, recently, we’ve also tried to deal with the problem of food waste, something that seems endemic and almost unavoidable in this industry. To minimise this, we have invested our energy, time and money in setting up a partnership with a local composting company. They come twice a week to collect our organic waste and process it into compost, that they then sell on as plant fertiliser. The municipal authorities in Paris are slowly setting up centralised food waste collection too, and once this is in place all across the city it will hopefully make reducing this kind of waste much easier.

K:  Can you talk a little about how customers have reacted to certain choices you and your staff have made, and the kind of feedback you get?

M: From what I have seen there are two main, and opposing, reactions. One kind of customer is very positive and supportive of all the new ideas, like the “No Straw” policy for example. They even take pictures of our sign explaining the environmental impact of single use dishes, which suggests that the message is important for them. On the other hand, I have heard people reacting like: “No straws?! But what am I gonna do?”.  I have to remind myself that a lot of our visitors are in Paris on holiday, and don’t necessarily feel like thinking about how our planet is collapsing. Still it does sometimes make me feel that the road towards more sustainable living and genuinely responsible consumption is still very long.

K: Has this transitional period, as the cafe tries to become more and more environmentally friendly, been challenging for you?

M: Surprisingly, I haven’t found it very challenging on a day-to-day basis. It’s all about learning what alternatives are available and developing new routines. Preparing food waste for compost felt like a big change at first, but now it’s just one daily task among many. That’s also why we have a blackboard in front of the cafe with information about the zero waste movement. Hopefully at least a few people have stopped for a few minutes to read it and gone on to make changes to their habits as a result.

K: Thank you so much for talking to us, Maïwenn . . . And thank you all for reading. I hope that this quick exchange is just the beginning of a long conversation about the choices we make as consumers and the small steps we can take towards a healthier and more sustainable way of relating to our local environments. So if you have knowledge and expertise that might help us improve ecologically, whether in the café or the bookshop, we’d love to hear from you.