As a company that believes in leaving our mark on science, but not on the earth, CST has made a commitment to use compostable cups and plates in our US cafeterias.
Although the cost per unit for compostable cups is significantly higher than plastic or polystyrene cups, CST views composting as a means to reduce waste and promote ecological sustainability in our US facilities.
However, we can only achieve these goals if our compostable cups are being disposed of properly. In a two-week pilot study on cup use at our Trask lane and Tozer road facilities, we discovered that between 46% of cold cups and 66% of hot beverage cups were discarded in the the trash when they should have been disposed of as compostable waste. This baseline data showed that our employees were using an average of 1.3 cups a day, which in a two-week period comes to around 5,313 cups (a cost of around $500). Not only does CST pay a premium for these compostable products, but also, trash removal costs for our US facilities averages $0.19 per pound whereas compost averages $0.07 per pound. Therefore throwing compostable cups in the trash wastes money both in terms of procurement and disposal.
We decided to come together to discuss ways of reducing the quantity of disposable cups that are used and how to prevent compostable products from being tossed in the trash. Instead of just the facilities and sustainability departments working on a plan to addresses these issues, CST decided to open up the discussion to our employee base through an innovation challenge.
Innovation challenges have been used by the private sector, universities, and international aid foundations to help develop new products, improve their business plans, trim budgets, or as a means to boost employee engagement. We wanted our first innovation challenge to be based on something visible and measurable, so cup reduction and compost awareness were good baseline goals. The most important element of the innovation challenge is to tap into the creative potential of the staff and build a sense of pride and camaraderie on a mutual project. By starting with a simple challenge (Learn about how Innovation Challenges can work on a larger scale here and here) we can then use this same tool to tackle more complex issues that have the potential for greater cost savings and environmental benefits such as improving storage capacity and configurations of our freezers and other lab equipment.
Employees at our US facilities took part in brainstorming sessions after an introduction about compostable cups in our cafeterias and an overview of data from our pilot studies on cup disposal. The meeting transitioned to an employee-lead discussion on ways to reduce the use of disposable cups and how to ensure that those used are composted appropriately. Questions were asked, jokes were told and some lively banter ensued at both meetings. Eventually employees developed their recommendations: a) reduce quantity of cups b) improve signage and access to compost bins c) incentivize employees to use reusable cups and bottles. A competition to reduce disposable cup use between our Tozer road and Trask facilities will take place in August with an ice cream social on the line to boost participation in the challenge!
Moving forward with these suggestions the facilities department and the sustainability coordinator have selected new compost receptacles, which should arrive at our US facilities in coming weeks. Plans to provide reusable coffee mugs and water bottles are going forward as sample products have already arrived and employees have voted on their mug and bottle of choice.
All in all, the innovation challenge is about more than just reducing cups, it is about sourcing ideas from the bright minds of the of folks who work at CST. In the future we hope to raise the bar on innovation challenges for more technical targets, but for now we’ll raise a coffee thermos and water bottle for the planet.