🚛Start-Ups are a Load of Garbage🚛

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Some pathetic fallacy at Quietly these days. Akin to these endless winter snows, the build-out work is relentless, heavy, and plodding. Yet, also much like these blizzards, the end is near!

Two weeks ago, I alluded to the vent work getting completed and it turns out that I was just off by a week. This past Tuesday, we finally fired up the roaster and I did seasoning batches on Wednesday. For those who signed-up for wholesale, expect an email early next week! 🎉 A great deal of my days continue to be sourcing equipment and the small pieces that come between green beans and you, be it pressure gauges, bags, or stickers.
Tracking down the right flow dial, box, or green bucket continues to be equally frustrating and rewarding. There is an easy solution, I could simply rely on massive companies to get all the varied things a warehouse could ever want or need. The ubiquitous option in our industry is uline. The problem is: they are fundamentally terrible. To quote the New York Times’s “The Most Powerful Conservative Couple You’ve Never Heard”, the owners support “broad access to assault weapons and assail transgender rights” have “bankrolled partisan newspapers and backed Roy Moore in Alabama even after he was accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls”. For these and countless other anti-environmental and discriminatory practices, I had a simple rule for Quietly: no uline.

While it is significant labour to find bag-sealers or buckets that come by way of small-scale or local businesses, it is gratifying. Coffee is extraordinarily precarious, endangered by climate change, financial inequality, and exploitative labour. It lands someplace between hypocritical and unethical to proclaim that ‘we support green farmers‘ but then attack their livelihood in less direct (but no less impactful) ways by backing uline or equally malevolent companies.
I know that I am not alone in my convictions with the zero waste movement gaining momentum in coffee. Rather that simply focusing on recycling, the idea front loads the reduce and renew approaches by not creating waste. Filling a jar with beans, banishing the take-out cup, refusing plastic straws or lids are all clearly positive shifts. And are especially great for an industry that revolutionized what goes in the cup but refused to acknowledge everything else around it – paper cup included.

I love Madeleine Wattenbarger‘s insight on Zero Waste in “Waste Not, Want Not“. She reflects, “the appeal of Zero Waste on an individual level is clear” as “late capitalism fosters a sense of helplessness in the face of systemic injustices, a yawning global wealth gap, and rapidly approaching climate catastrophe”. However without a radical drive, the movement wilts into a clinically pristine instagram aesthetic. Such a danger, she argues, is that it simply “provide[s] a sense of individual penitence” rather than challenge “the powerful systems we’ve already agreed we can’t change”. If it becomes about our enclosed worlds, it becomes about individuals. So how to maintain the bite? She suggests we take zero waste to its logical conclusion, by aligning it to the enmeshed systems beyond ourselves, our homes, and our feeds. She contends, to confront “our planet’s bleak reality”, we must address our production and our consumption “within the larger, interconnected waste trade”.
Amidst all this moving, I have literally been consumed by a box fort. But given the topic at hand, there is also a more figurative dimension. While I went into the Quietly build-out with strict rules like ‘no Uline’, I want to ask myself this week: am I doing enough? Despite little things like made-in-Canada buckets or reusing crate wood for shelves, Quietly HQ is still a giant mess of boxes, plastic wrappers, and styrofoam. For Madeleine Wattenbarger, meek environmental strategies rely on the idea that “we can neatly atone for humanity’s destruction with individual rituals of purification“. It is certainly made easy with recycling and garbage pick-up that whisks garbage away into the ‘void’.

So allow me to conclude this Quietly update with this: our bags will be biodegradable, bulk accounts can take advantage of the reusable container program, stop by the roaster anytime with a jar for beans, and recycling will be a last resort. Yet, that cannot be the end. Our biodegradable bags still have a huge carbon footprint, those containers are still made of plastic, and we are still creating waste. The real mission is thus to perpetually widen scope and continually confront our ongoing environmental impacts from seed to cup.

As Wattenbarger writes, “truly imagining a Zero Waste world” is “one in which we don’t merely displace our trash but rather work toward a circular economy where trash is no longer produced”. So let’s all call out those disposable cups, non-biodegradable bags, plastic straws and lids but also challenge ourselves to ask where does all our ‘trash’ come from and where does it end up. After all, “the political future of Zero Waste is not on Instagram or in the glamorous bulk grocery store—it’s at the dump”.

PS: For more on waste and coffee, follow the Little Black Coffee Cup!