Cathy Costa

Conder House: the return to cloth nappies

In today’s episode of Plastics Revolution, I’m chatting with Cathy Costa of the Conder House Laundry and Linen Services. They provide the only modern cloth nappies or diapers cleaning service in the greater Canberra, Australia area.

Cathy started this business originally as a side hustle to meet her own family’s needs.  However, in just two years, her business has also diverted an approximate 62,000 disposable nappies or 3.4 tonnes away from landfill. Her business is making it easier for environmentally conscious families and day care centres to switch to cloth diapers.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Cathy Costa of the Conder House.

Companies, Organisations and Products Mentioned in this Podcast:

Conder House Laundry and Linen Services
Canberra Cloth Bums
Cathy Costa on Linkedin

Other Resources:

Australian Nappy Association
Clean Cloth Nappies Down Under
All About Cloth Diapers
Cloth Diapering Mamas


Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade
All Rights Reserved 2019

Podcast Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity.


T: Host Tammy Ven Dange
C: Guest Cathy Costa, Owner of  Conder House Laundry and Linen Services


T: Cathy, welcome to the show.

C: Thanks for having me, Tammy.

T: I found out about your business through a forum that I went to where people were trying to convince future parents to go to a cloth nappy. And I know that’s a big thing right now because so many people are worried about the environmental impacts of (disposable) nappies or diapers for the length of a child’s use of these.

T: I understand that you’re the only cleaning service for cloth nappies here in the greater Canberra area, is that right?

C: Yeah, that’s correct.

T:  So tell me how your service works.

C:  Right. So we provide modern cloth nappies to our clients, as well as, doing all the washing, which is the bit that turns people off the most. So, we happen to deliver nappies twice a week. The client just checks them at their front door, and we swap them over up to twice a week and take them away and give them back a lovely clean bag.

C: We also, provide training on their first bag, and we can provide ongoing support for clients for as long as they need really. If they’re having trouble or if they’re experiencing extra leakage or anything like that, we can work with them so that they get a positive experience using the modern cloth nappies.

Cloth Nappies versus Modern Cloth Nappies

T: The difference between the old school cloth nappy and today’s modern cloth nappy, what’s the difference between the two?

C: So the old school was a terry flat. So it was just like a bath towel, but it was a square shape and you folded them up and clip them up with pins and then you put these plastic pants – PVC plastic back in the day over the top.

Terry Flat Nappy

C: The modern cloth nappy now is a breathable, waterproof fabric, which is called a polyurethane laminate. It was originally designed for the health care sector, and now they use that as the waterproof barrier on the outside of the nappy. And it comes in all pretty colours and patterns and prints. And it’s really quite cute.

Modern cloth nappy

C: And they’ve got all of these snaps so you can adjust them. And some of them have Velcro as well. But ours are with snaps so that you can adjust them to the shape and size of the baby. And on the inside you’ve got a fabric that draws the moisture away from the baby’s skin. And then there’s an insert, which is a combination of, in our particular case of bamboo and microfiber, that holds all of the fluids in there and elastic in the legs.

C: So it looks a bit like a disposable. It’s sort of shaped already like that. So it’s a lot easier to put on.

T:  And it’s also probably more complex to clean.

C: Yes. Yes, absolutely. Because when I was doing cloth nappies with my children, once you took off the solids, you just dunked the terry flats into a bucket of water with Nappy Sand (a laundry detergent in Australia specifically to wash cloth diapers) in it. But Nappy Sand doesn’t have sanitizer anymore. So that’s not what we do anymore. And obviously the modern cloth nappies can’t tolerate the extreme heat. So that’s where for us, in particular, that the sanitizer comes into play.

T: Yeah. I think it’s important for people to realise that the modern cloth nappy is so much different and so cute.  It’s kind of funny that we’re going back to this cloth nappy. I know that certainly when I was a kid and my brother was a kid, my parents definitely used cloth nappies and probably yours as well.

T: The disposable nappy, though, is so convenient. The cleaning process (described in) that forum is what made it so hard. Is the process you go through at your service, is that the same process that a parent might go through at home?

Cleaning Cloth Nappies at the Conder House

C: Yes, to a certain extent. But we’re in the industrial market, so it is technically a lot easier for us because we’ve got these ginormous machines that can wash 200 nappies in one go. And we’re using industrial chemicals and obviously we’ve got to meet Australian standards, which is not happening in the home.

C: But that’s okay in the home because they’re putting their nappies back on their baby. But that doesn’t work for us because a nappy might be used on one baby one day and then the next week it’ll be used on another baby. So that’s why we have to meet Australian standards so that we don’t pass on any germs from one baby to the next, and you get that satisfaction of sanitisation in every single load.

T: What do you do differently that ensures that you have that lack of cross contamination?

C:  So we’re actually of barrier laundry. So if you picture a big square room with a wall down the middle and then this ginormous washing machine sitting in the middle of the wall has two doors that opens on each side of the big square room and you can only enter one side at a time.

One side of the Conder House Barrier Laundry
One side of the Conder House Barrier Laundry

C: So what we call the dirty side – all the dirty laundry, including the nappies, goes in the dirty side and then it gets processed through the machine and opens up on the clean side through the door that’s on the clean side. So that’s how we can ensure that there is no cross contamination between clean and dirty laundry.

C: And our van is set up the same as well. We’ve got a vapour barrier in our van and only clean laundry goes on the clean side and only dirty laundry goes on the dirty side. But that’s how we ensure we don’t cross contaminate stuff. But the other mechanism we use is sanitisation.

Conder House Van
Conder House Van

C:  And with the modern cloth nappies, we have to use chemical sanitisation because we can’t do it thermally because we can’t wash the nappies to the temperature that we need to get to because they melt, because they’ve got a waterproof layer on them.

T:  And so you’re using chemicals to get rid of all the bacteria and other things. A lot of people say that the environmental impact of having to wash cloth diapers or nappies could be just as bad as the disposal cost or the landfill cost to the environment. What’s your view on that?

C:  There’s always going to be an impact. You can’t get around that. So it depends on which you consider to be the worst. I actually consider that washing of cloth nappies to be less of an impact than the landfill that we’re putting in with disposable nappies. So all of our chemicals are biodegradable. That’s a necessity for industrial laundries. But when you think about the landfill,  it’s tons and tons and tons of waste that is really going into landfill.

C: So, yes, we do use a lot more water, but we wash it 200 nappies in one go. So if you are looking at people doing nappies at home and everybody doing two washes to get the washing done, we actually only need to do one wash each time. So we cut down on water then there. And we also, as I said before, we wash 200 at a time. So we’re actually economising as much as we can.

A load of 200 nappies
A load of 200 nappies

C: And then when we scheduling our delivery runs, we’re also economising there as well because we are scheduling it in the most efficient route that we can do. So, we do try as much as we can to cut it down. Also when we’re supplying bags for these nappies, they’re all reusable, rewashable. So, the bags that our clients are using to receive their nappies and to drop them back to us, they’re not plastic bags either. So we cut it down as much as we can.

The Cost of Disposable Convenience

T: I ran some numbers the other day and tell me this is right. If the average baby uses about 12 nappies a day, especially when they’re first born, and maybe they need it up until about age two and a half or three.  It sounds like we’re looking at least 4000 nappies per child.

C:  Yeah, probably a bit more actually. I’d say it’s between 5000 and 5500 – around that figure.

T: Wow. And so, how many of the cloth nappies would see a child through until they no longer need it?

C: So if you would buy them and use them in your own home. Most people usually operate on about 30 nappies. It becomes a bit of a cult. And families tend to buy so many of them because they just come in beautiful patterns, and they really like to show them off. So there are families that have got a lot more than 30, but you really can survive on 30 if you’re operating on that in the home.

C: And that can do three or four children if you’re looking after them properly and washing them correctly and yeah, they really can go quite a distance.

C: And my nappies, obviously, they’re not per child. But I’ve been using one set of nappies for two years. Obviously, my set of nappies is a lot larger than what they are in the home. I’m talking hundreds actually closer to the thousands, but we’ve been using those for two years. So they get used multiple times a week because they come and get washed and get sent out again. So, they really do last a long time.

T: If we’re talking about two years, and you have them in use maybe twice a week – that is a significant decrease in the amount of plastic disposables going into the landfill.

C: Absolutely.

T: So that is significant. The biggest challenge, I suppose, is people’s views about washing them.

C: Yes.

Cleaning Cloth Nappies at Home

T: I’ve heard people say, “Oh, it’s so gross.”  I don’t have any children, but I think about when I used to work in a vet clinic, and we used to wash all the dogs’ towels and such. And sometimes those had poo on them as well, but we had a special washer for that. There wouldn’t be any kind of human towels or human anything else with that. How do people get past that mental barrier of, “Oh, I got to wash these pooey diapers and in my washing machine with all the other things?”

C: Well, the bottom line is there are some families that just can’t get past that, and that’s where we come into play there because we put in our machine, not theirs. But in all reality, you’re not creating poo soup at home. You actually are scrubbing out the solids before you’re put into machine. And yes, there will be urine in that.

C: But in the home, they are doing a pre-wash which is just the nappies, and then they’re doing another wash on top of that, which is generally just the nappies. And you can put other little things in like bibs and gross suits and smaller items. You can put underwear in there as well just to fill up the machine so that you get that correct agitation. But generally people don’t wash their clothes in there anyway

C: But again, it comes down to, “That’s okay in your home when it’s your family, but that’s not something that we can do.” And that’s why we have to actually use sanitizer every single load.

T: The other day when I saw you, and you showed me some of your fancy nappies, like there are the cutest ones for Christmas and in all the different holiday ones which were so adorable –  I remember you telling me that since you’ve taken out of the your facility, that now they’re considered dirty.

Christmas Nappies
Christmas Nappies

C: Yeah.

T: And that you would have to take them back and wash them again because they’ve been exposed now to outside elements. I thought that was quite impressive to say that because obviously a baby hasn’t used them, but your view of what dirty is.

C: Yeah, absolutely. As soon as it leaves the laundry, it’s considered dirty in our mind. So anything that comes back used or not has to go back through the same process as if it had been soiled. So again, that’s part of meeting Australian standards and ensuring that we can meet those sanitisation standards, and we can’t spruik that we do when we cut corners – so we don’t.

Solving her own Problem

T: Cathy, I know that the nappy cleaning service is only part of your business. Do you want to talk about how you actually started your laundry linen service?

C: Sure. So it really started off as a side hustle. I set up the business because I have a disabled adult son who’s severely autistic and intellectually delayed. And I was desperate for someone to do his laundry – both bed pads and linen, but also his clothing because we just had so much foul laundry, as you call it. And I couldn’t find anyone to do it for us.

C: The big linen companies would only support restaurants and hotels and hospitals. They wouldn’t just support an individual in a home that just needed a few sheets per week and a few big pads and stuff like that. And they definitely wouldn’t do your own clothing. So, I decided I’d set something up because I thought, “Actually, I can’t be the only person that needs this service.” And as it turns out, I’m not. So that’s how it really started.

Adding the Modern Cloth Nappies Cleaning Service

C: And then the nappies just flowed on from that as I sat in in the laundry and I thought, “Well, what else can I use this wonderful equipment that I’ve now got?” Because it’s quite a substantial capital outlay to set it up in the first instance. So I was looking into what other opportunities exist. And I asked my sister, “What about cloth nappies?” Because she and I used the terry flat cloth nappies on our kids, and she turned around and said, “Nobody does that anymore.”

C: So that’s when I sort of looked at the Facebook groups and started just stalking them and just listening and finding out all about it, and then came to the conclusion that I’ve got the equipment to do this, and I can do it easily. And it just provides another option to families who would like to do it, but don’t do it in the home. But it also provides another option for industry, for the childcare industry in particular.

T: You called it a side hustle.

C: Yes.

T: And what I find interesting is that – when did you actually start this business?

C: So, I started this business in November 2016.

Funding this Side Hustle

T: As a side hustle?

C: Yes.

T: But it’s not like a cheap side hustle. It’s not like you’re doing laundry in your own house for someone else.

C: No. It was a substantial outlay and went and got a loan.

T: You got a loan to pay for – what kind of facilities did you actually have to create for this?

C: So obviously we need to set up a barrier laundry and because I need to keep costs down because I was doing it as a side hustle, what I did is I had my garage in my house refitted into these barrier laundry. Yes, so I went and got a loan. I needed building works done. So, I probably spent about $50, $60 (thousand).

T: Just in facility costs?

C: Just on building works.  And then the machines themselves were in the vicinity of $50,000 or $60,000. And then all the other bits and pieces – a trolley. Just a trolley, a linen trolley can cost $1200. So now nothing is cheap  in this industry so. So I just did a gradually bit by bit, and as we expand I was cognisant of going too big too fast.

C: But the way we did it, having it in the in the garage as such meant I didn’t have rent. So it really kept the costs down for me so that I could continue working full time in the public service as well as doing this.

T: So you’re working in the public service?

C:  I was at the time, yes.

T: How many hours a week were you putting in this side hustle?

From Side Hustle to Full Time Work

C: Oh, I don’t know. If you ask any small business owner, they they’ve got to tell you that it’s just so many. And it got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to make a choice.

T: What was that choice?

C: And I ended up leaving the public service. I ended up going on long service leave. And then I kind of doubled the turnover of the company during that period. And so I actually can’t couldn’t go back to work now.

T:  You’ve got too much business.

C: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

First Hire?

T: When did you hire your first employee?

C: Oh, that was probably within six months, and it just started off for a few hours a week. And then as the business grew, her time increased. And again, I’m really cognizant of going too big too fast. So, we did it in a very gradual approach, and I’ve now got three casual employees. And again, they’ve all come on really quite gradually.

Getting Started

T: Did you start off with people (clients) like yourself that were families with children with disabilities that needed some linen cleaning or was it like you started thinking right away, “I want to go ahead and look at childcare centres and actual businesses?”

C: No, at the beginning it was about families caring for elderly at home, people at home with disabilities, et cetera. It was purely focussed on that.

C: That really was the original mission statement. So with the NDIS now, it’s a lot more affordable. To be honest, without the NDIS, it’s probably not something that people could afford. And that really has created wonderful options for them, and they can choose to use us rather than having to slave away at home for hours and hours and hours.

T:  So the National Disability Insurance Scheme is what that stands for.

C: Yes. Sorry.

T: NDIS for those who are not from Australia, that actually came in about the same time that you started your business, didn’t it?

C: It did come in earlier than that. It was about five, six years ago in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory).

T: Oh, yeah. Depends on what state.

C: Yeah it does because the ACT was part of the trial sites, it came in a little bit earlier.

T:  Okay. So, you already knew that there was a potential source of income for these families where they had choices that they could make about how to use some government funding to pay for a service like what you’re offering?

C: Mm hmm.

T: That was a great business opportunity because what I saw instead from the outside looking in was just a lot of people that were scrambling – or charities especially that were scrambling to figure out how to work within that new NDIS scheme. It sounds like you found an opportunity instead.

C: Yeah. And again, it was just purely because I had a child with a disability. So, I knew what I was looking for, and

I designed the service to be completely around what I would want as a customer.

C: Pick up and delivery was a major component of that. And that set us apart from other people, laundromats in particular because they didn’t necessarily pick up or deliver.  And people with disabilities don’t necessarily have a car or aren’t able to drive. Don’t have the time and all those things. So that’s why I went down that path.

T: When you’re first starting off though, and you have a delivery service – the Canberra community is fairly contained compared to maybe some cities – I can imagine you could end up being on the road the whole time.

C: Yes, it certainly could. My son John, who is autistic, intellectually delay. He actually does the deliveries with a support worker. So that’s another part of our business that whilst we aren’t a social enterprise, we’ve got a bit of a social enterprise feel and we create an employment opportunity for him.

C: And in all reality, it’s not really about him earning money. It’s more about giving him something meaningful to do for four days a week. He actually works for us. So, he actually does a delivery run four days a week. We don’t do it on the one day because we need to keep the van available in case we need to get it serviced.

T: But is he enjoying the work? Is he actually fully participating in that?

C: He fully participates as much as he can obviously. He’s carrying the bags in and out to clients. He actually comes into the laundry, and he’s engaged the whole time, and he loads the van with his support worker, obviously under the support worker is guiding him as to what order we put the bags into the van. And he then carries them out to the client, and then swaps them over and says goodday. Some of the clients just love it when he comes to visit.

T: Yeah, I bet.

C: They really do enjoy that. And he stops off every now and then, like for lunch and he goes and plays on the swing at a local park. He has a great time.

T: I think we should all do that. That would be a great lunchtime break for all of us I think.

T: So, you have now, though, moved on from just clients within the linen service, moving into the nappy service.

C: Yes.

T: Are you dealing mostly with individual families now or are you starting to build more of a business clientele?

C:  Well, it’s working both ways, really. The home-base clients is really starting to grow. And the number of those clients fluctuates because some clients in the home are just wanting for a short period of time while they get used to cloth nappies, or when somebody buys them a gift voucher as a baby present. They just use it for that period of time. Others have used it more long term, so our home base clients really is fluctuating.

Cloth Nappies in Childcare Centres

C: But where I feel that we can really make the most impact is encouraging childcare centres to be using them because the figures on their usage of disposables is really phenomenal. So, we do have a few business clients and obviously that’s where we are focussing our effort at the moment. I anticipate that the usage of cloth nappies in the ACT  will end up being regulated, but we’ll see whether my prediction comes through.

T:  I think that will be challenging knowing that there’s some parents that just refuse to move into a cloth nappy, if nothing else, because the time.

C: Yeah.

T: And I think that will be challenging. But there’s certainly a more and more people that are up taking this from an environmental conscious point of view.

C: Absolutely..

T: We’re talking about childcare centres, do you have any numbers in terms of what they’re actually going through right now in terms of nappies?

C: Yeah, I do, actually. So, generally a room in a childcare centre is about 20 placements. So I have actually crunched the figures on 20 placements. And a lot of childcare centres have multiple rooms that have 20 placements that are using disposable nappies. So if we just work on one room with 20 placements, that’s 500 disposable nappies per week, 2000 a month or 22,000 per year that are all going into landfill. So if we look at what that is:

From a waste disposal point of view, that is 22.5 to 27.5 kilos per week, 90 to 110 kilos per month, 990 kilos to 1.21 tonnes per year. That’s just for 20 placements in one childcare centre per year.

T: That’s huge. That’s absolutely huge.

C:  Hence the reason why I feel we can make the biggest difference through childcare centres.

T: Yeah, for sure. And if there is only regulation within the childcare centres themselves, not within families, that alone would make a huge difference.

C: Absolutely.  And you know, minimal impact for families at home because childcare workers are paid to change nappies. That’s part of their job description. So, it’s not an impact on the home. It’s also not an impact on those who are managing people with disabilities at home and still using continence aides that are well beyond the normal appropriate age nappy usage.

C: And families can make a choice to if they don’t want to actually use disposables at home. But they’re worried about their environmental footprint. They can choose to use a childcare centre that supplies cloth nappies.

T:  You just said something that made me think about bigger market there. You were just mentioning about incontinence pads and such.

C: Mm hmm.

T: Are there cloth adult type nappies available?

C: There absolutely are. We don’t supply them. And I’ve definitely used them with my son in the past. He doesn’t need them anymore. But yes, you can. But without grossing everybody out, adult poo is very different to a child’s poo. And it’s a lot harder to clean.

T:  Yeah, I think anyone that’s had to change a newborn will know that even a child’s poo changes over time as well.

C: Absolutely.

T: As I confess that from my one year old nephew.

T:  The numbers you just said for the childcare centres is just phenomenal.  I know based on speaking to other people in the recycling industry for plastics, that in Australia right now, there are no solutions for recycling dirty nappies.

T: There are in some countries, and there’s certainly a number of companies that have tried to do it here, and there’s at least one organisation or a company that’s trying to create some sort of recycling process for nappies. But right now, there are basically are no options for recycling disposable nappies.

T: So unfortunately, the numbers you’re telling us right now is something that’s been happening for years. And it will continue to be a sore spot in the No Waste goals that both government and individuals have.

C: Absolutely. And each disposable nappy takes 200 to 500 years to decompose in landfill. So we are putting all these nappies into landfill, but then they’re not decomposing in a year. It’s 200 to 500 years. This is an enormous amount.

T: Which is incredible to see.

Business Growth

T: So, the kind of customers that you’re picking up now, I mean, there’s certainly more and more interest around cloth nappies at the moment. And people are getting over this poo issue to the point that they’re say, “Look, our parents used to do it. Obviously, we can do it, too. It’s not that big a deal.” And if they really don’t want to handle it, or they don’t have the time to handle it themselves, they can use a service like yours.

T: What kind of growth have you seen in the last, say, 12 months?

C: Oh, there’s actually been quite a lot of growth in the last twelve months, particularly for us. Just awareness of our existence is really been quite a significant thing. And even in the ACT. I’m not quite sure how long Canberra Cloth Bums –  that Facebook group you mentioned earlier (note: hosted forum I attended), how long they’ve been running for, but they have contributed significantly to the awareness in Canberra.

C: They’ve got a huge number of followers – 600 plus just in the ACT and there are other Facebook groups, etcetera, that are really opening it up so that people understand all about it. But yeah, the awareness is increasing dramatically.

T: So I imagine that could impact your business as well.

C: Yes, it could. I need to do something about that to be ready for it.

Future Plans for Conder House

T: OK, well, let’s talk about future plans and future goals. What do you have planned?

C: Now I’m looking at expansion because as I alluded to before, I anticipate that cloth nappies will be regulated in the city for childcare centres. And if that happens, I need to get postured to be able to cope with that, because obviously it’ll be a demand that I just can’t meet as we are at the moment.

C: There will probably a few different options. The big linen companies will probably provide just the terry flat option. But if businesses are looking for a modern cloth solution, those companies probably aren’t interested in the extra work that’s going to be required with them.

C: So, I’m now looking at what we can do to expand not only machinery, but obviously in facilities. We’re gonna be far, far too big for our little space in my garage. So we’ll have to look at a warehouse type solution full of lots of machines and more staff, obviously.

T: Well, another investment, though.

C: Yes, absolutely. And again, I’ll have to work out how I’m going to fund that. But again, it will be something that I fund. And again, it’ll have to be a gradual process and quite well planned and thought out.

T: Have you thought about bringing on investors?

C:  No. Yes, I have looked at it, but I’m hesitant to lose control of ownership etc. of the company.

T: Yeah, I think a lot of people that think about investors forget that element sometimes.

C: Yeah. And that’s what discourages me the most in all fact, in all reality. I’m just not keen to hand over ownership.

T:  Do you think that cloth nappies or the revolution back to it? Do you think it’s just a trend or do you think this is something that’s more long term?

C: I think it will be more long term.

I think people will just realise what we’re doing is not sustainable. We’ve had a good run with it, I suppose. It’s coming to an end. You know, where do we put? Where do we continue to put all this landfill? It’s just not sustainable.

T: And if a company does come in with a recycling solution, is that going to impact you?

C:  I don’t think so, because it just gives the families another option, which is great. I would say, there are certain people that just aren’t going to use cloth. It just doesn’t work for them. So those would be the families that would potentially look at a recycling or a composting option. But then there’s others that go the whole hog and don’t want disposables at all. So, it’s just another great option.  I encourage it.

T:  Well, they always say to refuse, reuse first, right? Before you try to recycle? Because that’s the best the best option for the environment in the long run.

C: Absolutely.

T: Would you like to share anything else with our listeners or do you have any request from them? 

C:  The only thing that I really would like to share is that modern cloth nappies, well cloth nappies in general really aren’t for everybody. You either want to or you don’t. And sometimes you just can’t. It’s a personal choice.

C: Services like ours give you a different option. And again, as I said before, if you don’t want to do it at home, but you feel that you need to be responsible in some way, shape or form,

You can always choose a childcare centre that uses cloth nappies and then it doesn’t have a direct impact on you. But give it a go. You don’t even have to do it full time. You can do it on weekends or you can just do it Monday to Friday. You don’t actually have to do it full time either.

C: There’s lots of families out there who only elect to do it on a part time basis because full time basis is just a bit too much for them. Or they just can’t get the support they need overnight – cloth nappies aren’t absorbent enough for them. So they use a combination.

There’s plenty of help out there but just go look for it and you can always give us a call and we’ll help you along on that journey.

T: I think that’s a good point. I know someone right now who only does cloth nappies on weekends because their child centre won’t accept cloth nappies. So that was her compromise to say, “OK, while they’re at a childcare centre, they’ll go ahead and use the disposable ones. But when they’re in my house and I have control over this and I could do it, then on the weekends I’ll use the modern cloth nappy.”

Other Resources

T:  I know that you’re only servicing people within the Canberra community. If we look broadly speaking, if somebody who hears this is perhaps even another country, where can they go for resources to learn about cloth nappies?

C: So, there are multiple Facebook groups. CCN is one of the big ones and I can’t tell you what that acronym stands for. If all of the top my head. But if you just googled “modern cloth nappies”, you would find a whole lot of information would pop up for you.

T: Or “modern cloth diapers?”

C: Oh yeah maybe diapers for US listeners and potentially Asian listeners as well. I think they call them diapers there too.

T: So what we could do is put some resources on the show notes so that if people want to go to some sites, we can give you a couple to start with then.

C: Absolutely.

How to Reach Cathy or the Conder House

T: And then that way at least they’ll have some resources for them. Locally if somebody wants to use your service, Cathy, how else can they reach you?

C: They can reach us on Facebook, Instagram, on our website. We’ve got our phone number plastered everywhere. So they’re welcome to phone or an email.

T: Cathy I think what you’re doing right now is a huge service to start with when you’re looking at people that had perhaps disabilities and needed some sort of cleaning service that nobody else would provide, and obviously (you were) scratching your own itch there.

T: But the fact is you’ve gone beyond that, and you’re providing a service now that is actually reducing the amount of dirty nappies that are going into the landfill is a huge option for the environmentally conscious consumer parent out there. You’re the only one in this area. Melbourne, I think, only has one too.

T: The service you’re providing right now is the only option for some parents. So, thank you so much for extending your reach and recognising the environmental impact you can make within families, but also especially day-care centres to reduce the amount of plastic that they’re consuming. Because without someone like you providing these services, there’s a lot less people that could even think about doing it.

C: Thank you.

Local Press Cafe & Wholefoods – a sustainable case study

Today I’m speaking with Jonathon Draper and Olivia St-Laurent of Local Press Café + Wholefoods in Canberra, Australia.  Local Press began with sustainability in mind from the day they opened their first café in 2016.

And yet since then, they’ve continued to add practices that have reduced their waste by 90% and encouraged an amazing loyal following from both staff and customers alike – showing that you can be both a profitable and sustainable.

This episode is truly a case study of what food businesses could do just about anywhere if they consciously chose to reduce their own impact on the environment.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Jonathon Draper and Olivia St-Laurent of Local Press.

Companies, Organisations and Products Mentioned in this Podcast:

Local Press Café + Wholefoods
Woolly Pockets
1% for the Planet
Go Strawn
La Vague

Check out the full transcript on Tammy’s blog page.


Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade
All Rights Reserved 2019


Local Press Wholefoods bulk section

This transcript has been edited for clarity.


T: Host Tammy Ven Dange
J: Guest Jonathon Draper, Owner of Local Press Café and Wholefoods 
O:Guest Olivia St-Laurent, Sustainability Coordinator


T:  Jonathan, Olivia, welcome to the show.

O: Thank you.

J: Thank you very much.

T: I’ve known about the Local Press for a while because you’re one of my local cafes.  I actually brought one of your jars with me, which looks like just a fancy little jar. But what I had bought with this was one of your fresh juices, and that was years ago. And I thought that was right away something that distinguished you guys from most of the other cafes in the fact that you would give me a glass jar that I still reuse for nuts and things like that.

T: Then if you look at the top of the lid, you’ll see that I’ve actually been in your store, your Whole Foods store. That allowed me to refill it with some of your other ingredients, and then I think you had a weight it.

J: Yeah. That’s right.

T:  …to tell me how much the glass weighed so that you can subtract whatever your product was inside of it. So, you can tell that I’m actually a customer of both of your businesses.

reusable juice jar
My reusable juice jar from Local Press

J: It’s great to see those jars have spread far and wide to our customer base, which is good. I often go to friends and families’ homes, and I see those jars with flowers or grains or what have you in them. So that’s good.

T:  It’s good advertising.

J: It’s good advertising, yeah. Good to see they’re getting second lives too.

The sustainable food beginnings

T: So Jonathan, you started your first café. Was that 2014?

J:  Yeah. That’d be about right.

T: And did you have a sustainable set of goals at that time?

J:  The sustainable set of goals we had were predominantly based around keeping things as local as possible, reducing our food miles wherever we could and keeping everything small and controlled.

J:  We wanted to stock quality stuff and keep things as green as possible too really. So we had very limited meat offerings on our menu at the time. That’s gradually changed as our customers have demanded a bit more of a comprehensive menu.

J:  But initially we were about being big and green and salads and clean and local.

T:  So, it’s more about sustainable food at the beginning.

J:  It was. That’s right. I was pretty naive about the whole sustainability thing when I started. But it was definitely on our radar. A lot of what we sourced in the café – if you go to the cafe, you’ll see there’s a lot of recycled timber. There’s a lot of recycled bricks. As a matter of fact, the whole cafe is more or less built from recycled materials. That was almost more of a budget concern than anything else. We set out to reuse whatever we could from local tips (garage dumps) and create sort of a comfortable, warm aesthetic.

T:  It’s so trendy now. It’s funny because you go into your cafe and it’s actually quite amazingly trendy and it always has been. So the fact that you did it on a budget and that’s the reason why you did it that way is kind of funny if you think about it.

J: It is funny, isn’t it? Yeah. I’ve been labelled with that trendy moniker a few times, but I wanted to fill the place up, as I said, with sort of recycled things. And I also wanted to put as many plants as functionally possible. I actually wanted there to be an unpractical amount of plants throughout the venue.

O:  As there is in our home.

J:  Yeah.

Local Press moving towards a more sustainable cafe

T: You’ve obviously moved on from more of a concern of sustainable food to looking at other things within your environment.  I mean, one of the most recent interactions I’ve had with you here was with one of our other (podcast) guests, Green Caffeen –  you guys are carrying their coffee cups. Do you want to talk about some of your newer practices?

J: Yeah, sure. As I said, when we opened Local Press, the main emphasis on sustainability was using more recycled elements throughout the building process and using local and greener items on the menu, sort of lower footprint items.

J: But we started to realize that there is a lot more that we could do, and we started to look far deeper into the business and see the impact – the direct footprint that the business had. And it was a substantial one.

J: It was a high turnover business. We were very busy, and we saw the amount of rubbish we produced was huge. And we very quickly figured out that most of that was food waste. So, one of the biggest steps we took initially was to find some way to compost that. And so over the years, we’ve had a number of different composting partners.

J: And that’s basically the first step we took until we sort of took the plunge to open the new business, Local Press Whole Foods, which was a real step down the sustainability path further with the business predominantly based around sustainability.

T: We’re sitting in your Local Press Whole Foods cafe right now. Could you describe what we see around us right here?

O:  As you walk in, the first thing you see is a bunch of bulk food bins with little descriptions and codes. The idea with that is to bring your own jar or use some jars that we’ve got on hand and fill up with bulk foods. And the idea is to avoid all kinds of plastic packaging – often soft plastic packaging, which is very hard to recycle. And apart from that, we’re also a regular café. So, we offer food and coffee and drinks.

Local press bulk food section
Local Press Wholefoods bulk food section

For the love of plants

J:  I think one of the first things that people comment on are the vines that creep across the roof. They are a really funny story. We planted them in what are called Woolly Pockets. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them, but they’re basically they’re made out of recycled, plastic bottles.

J: Whoever’s come up with the idea, I think they’re an American company. They’re fantastic. Basically, they wick the water away from the wall. So, the unit is mounted on the wall and it doesn’t get wet outside the unit. And you fill it with soil and fill it with plants. And the plants have a very happy there.

The happy plants
The happy plants

J: When we opened –  we’ve got a bit of a drab roof – it’s an office roof. And we were contemplating different ways we could fix it. And I thought, well, let’s get some vines and see what happens. And we put them in these woolly pockets and they’ve just taken off. So one of the first things I think people comment on is these vines that sort of creep across the roof, which is great.

The vines hiding an otherwise ugly office ceiling
The vines hiding an otherwise ugly office ceiling

T: I’ll take some pictures and put it on our show notes page so that people can see it. But what I do think is interesting is that if people don’t understand what you’re trying to do, it actually looks fake.

J: Right. Can we get that.

O: I can see that. Sure.

T:  It just looks almost too perfect that you can have this many vines growing in an office-like looking place.

O:  We get an incredible amount of sunlight coming in. So that probably helps.

J:  It’s great. You might have noticed across the road we have a huge big old basket at the front, which we found at the tip and we filled with a bigger singular woolly pocket and planted plants. And that also is just gone berserk. So, I think the plants know that there’re friends here, and they are they seem to flourish.

T:  Other than the bulk food, you also have other things in this shop that are good for the environment. Do you want to talk about those a little bit?

Sourcing sustainable products

O: Yeah, sure. So the retail items we have, although some of them may not seem necessarily eco items, in the sense that they have some kind of packaging, the idea behind them is that,

We’ve really done our research to find companies that support our values.

O: So, for example, they’re either are B Corporations or 1% for the Planet or they have some kind of accreditation that we believe in and support. And we try to make that known to our customers as well when they come in. We let them know that whatever they’re buying in our shop, they can be confident that it’s a good choice and that it’s got sustainability standards. And it’s also a socially responsible choice that they’re making.

T:  I see some soap. You can actually just refill it?

O: So, we do sell some things in bulk. They’re not necessarily food –  things like dishwasher, liquid, laundry, powder, etc..

J:   We also offer you cooking liquids in bulk, although we don’t have the dispensers out front. But maple syrup and oils and all those sort of things, you’re able to bring your bottles in and get them filled up by us.

J: It’s been a really interesting process going down the rabbit hole of finding more environmentally friendly, sustainable orientated companies.  Olivia’s done a great job sourcing some really, really good stuff. And it’s been really interesting to see what customers take on and what they’re a bit shy of.

J: One of my favourites is a big bunch of honey that we have here, which is actually salvaged by a local character – who’s a real character.  He’s contracted by the government to remove beehives from domestic houses. So, he basically removes the beehives and puts them into national parks and areas where they’re safer and more comfortable and not going to sting little children.

Rescued honey
Rescued honey

J:  He takes the honey and packages it up, and we sell it as recycled honey. So, it’s a great initiative.

O:  So every jar of honey comes from a different place.

T: Is it mostly all local?

J: It’s all local, yes. So if you’re from Weetangara, you’re buying your honey from your local area, often the wetlands, or vice versa. It’s a great initiative.

The challenges in reducing plastic in a cafe

T:  Now, with the cafe side of it, I actually grew up in a restaurant. My mom had restaurants when I was a kid. I know that just some of the health requirements require lots of plastic in terms of how you keep your food safe. What are some of the challenges that you’ve had in trying to reduce your plastic footprint?

J: Bakers are the hardest actually. Bakers love Glad Wrap. So, they’ve been a real challenge.

glad wrap
Glad wrap

J: But by and large, a lot of what we get is produce – fruit and vegetables. That doesn’t come in plastic. It comes in boxes, and we can recycle them. No problem. So that’s great.

J: There are things like meat, obviously, that are going to come in plastic. But with REDcycle and a few other awesome companies like that, we basically to rinse that, wash it and put it in our soft plastics recycling. We take that up to Coles and it gets a second life as well. There’s nothing glamorous about it. No.

T:  You must have a lot more in your soft plastic bags than most.

O: Yeah, we always feel a bit embarrassed when we to bring a load of soft plastics every couple of weeks because we just feel like one day we’ll be told off for bringing so much soft plastic.

J: Yeah, we walk into Coles with about six huge garbage bags of soft plastics that accumulate over a few weeks, but they don’t have a problem with it. And I presume it goes to a good second life, which is great.

O:  Yeah, that solved a big problem of ours because soft plastics can be recycled. Sometimes it’s really hard to avoid for things like health and safety like you say. For example, Glad Wrap – we’ve avoided it in most cases by using containers and whatnot, but there are some cases where you just can’t do without. So, having that option when we can’t reduce or avoid – to recycle is fantastic.

T: I’ve heard someone say recently that they felt like aluminum foil was a good option instead of Glad Wrap.

J:  Absolutely. And I believe aluminum foil sort of has an infinite life if recycled properly. It could be returned back into its (original) state. So that’s great.

T: And it still has value. People actually want it.

J:  Absolutely. We’ve got a second-hand aluminum foil section where we basically use aluminum foil that hasn’t been tainted and, you know, fold it up and give it a second use in the kitchen where possible, which is good. 

T: Are there any kind of regulations that you wish that might be different to allow you to maybe run your operations slightly more green?

J: No. I mean, I’m sure there are, but all in all not really. Certain suppliers – when you go back in the produce chain, you find difficulties in convincing bigger suppliers to provide things with less plastic. For example, mushrooms always seem to come in Styrofoam trays and fish as well. It obviously comes in styrofoam packaging with ice to keep it cold. So, we’ve had a few troubles with some suppliers in terms of their unwillingness to budge on that.

J: But apart from that, by and large,

Most people, staff and suppliers are sort of happy (to reduce their plastic consumption). It just requires a little bit of education, a little bit of direction, and they’re usually quite willing to jump on board. They can see the need to do it, and they’re sort of happy to be part of a positive initiative.

T: I know when I go by your cafe, especially on a Sunday morning, there’s a line out the door with people still waiting on the dock to get in. I imagine that you guys actually have quite a bit of influence with your suppliers. And if there’s other cafes doing the same thing, then you might actually be able to reduce the amount of styrofoam that’s been used because that is one of the hardest plastics to recycle.

J:  Yeah, absolutely.  Look, I like to think we do have a bit of an influence. Certainly, we have found a lot of suppliers are very happy to try to help out and work with us, but as you say, we’re all quite well-known and we are quite popular. And it’s one of the big reasons we’ve opened this second place to demonstrate that you can run a cafe successfully and be aware of your environmental footprint and try to reduce it as much as possible.

J: We drive twice a week to drop off soft plastics and to drop off compost. And, you know, it takes time out of your schedule. And most small business owners don’t do that.  What we’re trying to suggest and show is that you kind of have to and you’ve kind of got to make it work. It’s kind of their responsibility.

I think the cafe and restaurant industry is a huge, huge industry. And if every one of them starts to make more positive steps, it’ll be a big, big difference. And, it’s necessary and it’s possible.

O: A lot of the time, it seems to be as simple as asking. I know it’s not always the case. But, for example, that’s with our customers and with some of our suppliers. We’ve got some people who bring in some cakes for us. And if we asked them not to use any Glad Wrap, they’re usually more than happy to abide.

O: Same with the suppliers when they’re on a smaller scale, or they’re people we know and meet face to face, and they understand where we’re coming from and why we’re trying to do what we’re doing,

They’re happy to change the way they do things sometimes for us. As well as customers. We simply try and give them as many options as possible rather than make them feel limited.

Small sacrifices add up

O: For example, you know getting a takeaway cup is an option, but they also have about four other options. So sometimes you just also want to make it seem a lot more accessible because I think a lot of people have this idea of sustainability as the impossible thing to do or a lack of convenience and losing your comforts.

T: Yeah, well, it’s certainly hard to do.

O:  Yeah, but not impossible.

T: No, not impossible. But you do have to change some things in your life to start to do it.

O: Absolutely.

J: You have to make small sacrifices. And people seem unwilling to make small sacrifices sometimes. And…

I think you just need a gentle reminder that they are just very small, and they just require small sacrifices on a regular basis. And when you get used to them, it’s just not that big of a shift.

So a lot of people are sort of unwilling at first, but they gradually come around to it.

Plastic straws?

T: I can see that you have paper straws. That was one of the very first switches that a lot of cafes around here did. Do people care anymore? Did they complain about not getting a plastic straw?

O:  It’s interesting because at the beginning we’d often get told something like, “The paper straw in my smoothie will kind of mush up and crumble and dissolve in my smoothie.”

J: We got a lot of criticism. We were very early on takers with that. And we got a lot of criticism. It was quite funny.

O:  And it’s a fair argument. And another thing that we got criticism for is not giving the straw right away and just allowing the customers to take one if they decide that they need one.

J: You put a smoothie in front of them and they say, “How do they drink it?”

O: They look at you like you’re a bit crazy.  So it’s definitely an adaptation for the customers, as well as for the staff and figuring out how far can you push it before you turn your customer away? Because obviously, that’s the last thing we want to do.

O:  But actually today, we just had someone come in and bring in straws made out rice. Rice, water and oil, I think were the three ingredients. And I try to put it in a glass of water, and it didn’t bend until about an hour. So, there’s many other things, and we’ve seen things like pasta straws and things like that. So we’re open to options.  I think with time as well, there will be more convenient things that’ll come out as it becomes more trendy and financially (sound).

J: Yeah, but these rice straws we received, they’re terrific. They’re a sign of everyone having now made the transition to cardboard. And the innovators out there are looking to improve that, and they can see that cardboard is obviously not very good – still requires trees, it gets pretty sloppy in a drink pretty quickly.

J:  And these rice straws, I think they’re all organic. They’ve got a lot of positive certifications –  I can’t site them off the top my head, but they look terrific. They’re multi-coloured. They’re great.

T: Do you want to mention them by name?

O:  They were called. I liked it. It was Go Strawng, but strong was spelled s t r a w n g. And I thought that was very clever.

T: We’ll try to go ahead and put all the companies that may been mentioned. We’ll put them in the show notes as well, to give them a bit of a plug as well.

T: Do people actually complain anymore about the straws?

O: No, it just goes after a while. I think people start realising that that’s the way we do it here. And they adapt, and they realise it’s just not that bad.

J:  I think everywhere does cardboard straws right now, which is great. So, it’s become part and parcel.

T: A year ago though, it wasn’t.

J:  No. That’s right.

T: So, things have changed fairly quickly around here.

O:  It is great to see. It’s really nice. Often times I’ll go out to get a smoothie myself, and I’ll always say, “No straw.” They’ll be like, “But we’ve got paper straws. It’s good we got you covered.”

J: Yeah, we had a long period there of insisting wherever we went, “no straw” because obviously they’d give you a plastic straw. But now everyone just gives you the cardboard. You don’t even have to worry.

T: Yeah. At least locally. .I know internationally, that’s not the case.

O: Sure. We’ve travelled a fair bit and we find that travelling is one of the biggest challenges for sustainability because as much as things are a certain way in Australia, it’s not like that everywhere.

T: And probably the capital cities are a little bit more knowledgeable about these challenges than some of the other places.

O: Yes.

Can you be green and profitable?

T: Questions then about your business, because as we were talking about, just briefly –  when you’re running a business, and you’re trying to be sustainable, there are some additional costs, if nothing else, from a time perspective. So how do you make it work?

J: Yeah, it is tricky. It can be tricky from the get go convincing your business partner who may not be as sustainable minded. It is an additional cost. Plastic is cheap and it is convenient and works really well – something we’ve realised going plastic free. Now if we get plastic fall into our lap, we sort of keep it. It’s like a hot commodity because it’s so useful. You just keep using it.It’s great.

J: But it does come with an extra expense, and the problem is that you don’t get immediate notice from the customers. So, it does take a while to build a reputation for a certain thing. So, if you’re an early on taker, as we sort of were with the whole sustainability thing, you are making sacrifices in terms of costs and you’re not really getting a boost in customers or a boost in awareness from customers for your efforts.

It’s just important, I think, to maintain a long- term vision on the thing. Remind yourself why you’re doing it, and why it is ultimately more important than any other solution.

J: And at the end of the day, it does cost extra. But it’s a high turnover cafe. There is a lot of money coming in and out, and there are areas where you can squeeze a little bit tighter in order to make those sacrifices work, and I think it’s totally necessary.

T: How about this bulk store cafe, because it’s a totally different location? I mean, it’s in the same neighbourhood, but it’s not on the waterfront like your other restaurant, and it has a different focus in terms of the bulk foods. And also you have a little store where you can buy things like reusable coffee cups and alternative utensils and things like that. How’s that going in comparison to that fast turnover restaurant?

J:  It’s been a slow take up, honestly. We’re in a bit of a secluded location, and it’s taking a while for people to get to know us. But those that have found us have been really pleasantly delighted, and it’s been really nice to see we’ve attracted – a really sweet customer base. We find the customers that we get here, they come here because they care. And that’s great because we care. So we get along really well, and they always come back. So it’s really nice. It’s nice to see.

J:  It’s, as you say, a new concept and it is a little bit different.  There’s a whole mix of things going on in here from environmentally friendly products to cafes. We also do wholesale of a lot of things, and we do catering and all sorts of stuff. We’ve also just introduced recycle boxes where we take in old stationary, old clothes or old electrics and cords and things like that and take them to proper recycle drop-offs.

J: And it’s been an interesting process to watch people learn and realise that they’re there. I’m looking over, and the electric box is full, which is awesome. I don’t know why that happened. But it was empty for the longest time. And, you know, people are starting to realise, and they’re bringing them in. Which is great.

Recycle boxes
Recycle boxes

O:  I think our customers are inspiring our customers as well. Oftentimes people come in and they see some of our customers coming in with their jars. Or having some of our regulars, who know exactly how to go about the shop, and what they need to do. And they’ll open minds because I think a lot of people who do come in are of that mind state, and they’re all about the sustainability, and they know about it.

O: But for some customers who come in and have no idea, they don’t know that you could buy in bulk, or they don’t know that you could recycle your old cables and things like that. They find out and they’re usually, as you said, quite happy about it and pleasantly surprised. And we’re spreading a little bit of awareness, which can be very rewarding at times.

What about the Local Press employees?

T:  What about your employees? Between the two cafes you probably have – how many employees do you have?

J: About 30.

T: 30. So that that’s a pretty good team. Do you find that you’re attracting a certain kind of employee because of the sustainability interest?

J:  Yeah, it’s been a really interesting cycle to watch.  When we first started, we obviously had an employee base that was there because we were a successful cafe and the kind of food we were doing was attractive to them. And so that was a similar kind of person in the sense that it was a very vegetarian friendly menu. So, they were sort of all already of that mindset.

J: But since opening the second store, it’s been fantastic revelation. We’re getting the kind of staff that want to be a part of something like this. So, the staff have been great. They love the chance to take a little bit of new knowledge on about what they can do and little bits here and there.

J: They can help whenever we have an environmental initiative, like a fundraising evening or a church or a charity dinner, for example. We’ve always got lots of people volunteering to help out. So, the staff have been fantastic. They’ve required a little bit of education, a little bit of assistance, but all in all, they’ve been very willing to take it on and learn.

O: They’re always happy to ask questions if they don’t know whether they can recycle something. They’ll always come up to us and ask us, “What do we do with this?  Is it soft plastic? Is it recycling?” And then (we’ll) tell them all to do the scrunch test, and then you’ll know and things like that.

O:  But they’re always really interested, and as you’ve mentioned before, some events – we have a clothing upcycling event coming up at the end of the month, which we’re starting to organise. And fortunately, I’ve had two of our front of house employees come on board and help me organise it.  We’re all just volunteering our time doing it because it’s something that we believe in. But it’s so nice to know that

The staff are interested, and they really see the team as their family. And they want to be part of the sustainability initiatives we’ve put forth, and they believe in what we do.

T: How does that affect your turnover?

J: We’ve been very fortunate here. We’re a good family, and we have a very low turnover. We keep staff until they regretfully have to take a more serious jobs when they finish uni (university) or they move interstate. So,

We have very low staff turnover, which is excellent.

T:  I ask that question because restaurants are notorious for turnover. And it does seem like with you guys bringing on something more, something with purpose, a mission –  I just imagine you attract a different kind of employee.

J:  Absolutely. And I think that applies to the whole business. It provides a more stable foundation.  You get a loyalty from customers and from staff that you probably wouldn’t otherwise get.

There’s more than just a financial imperative for them to support the business and to be around, and they’re there because they love what we’re trying to do, and we love having them here and vice versa.

J: And it’s so it’s a mutually beneficial relationship in many ways. So, yeah, it definitely helps with staff retention. And similarly, it really helps with giving the business, on the whole, a stronger foundation, a stronger place in the community, as a company that’s not just providing food and coffee, but trying to provide a little bit of good, and upcycle and recycle whatever they can, wherever they can.

T: Well, I know you have a very loyal customer base. It’s interesting to think about how the additional costs that you’re taking in to try to create this environment that’s greener than most cafes is probably reducing your cost for employees from that same perspective. And it’s hard because it’s a different number. So you don’t notice a cause and effect as much.

J: Yeah, absolutely. That’s definitely the case. And it’s been a lovely revelation. It’s not something you think about when you start to go down this path. But it’s just one of those lovely positive offshoots that you get.

O: And I’ve worked as a barista in many places, and I worked in many cafes. And I feel like the environment here is the nicest I’ve ever worked in because there’s – making coffees as a part time job just because that’s what you do during the day and then you go home and don’t think about anymore. And then there’s – making coffees in a place where you feel at home, and you really enjoy the staff, and you feel like you guys are inspiring customers and hopefully inspiring fellow businesses and trying to do something that’s truly good.

T: Between the two restaurants, do you have the same sustainability footprint in terms of your practices?

J: Yeah, absolutely. They’re one and the same – so the recycling efforts and the composting and recycling of the soft plastics, what we do with our milk bottles, all that sort of jars. Yeah, it’s all one in the same which is good. Makes it easier.

Counting impact

T: Have you ever tried to count the impact that you’re making by doing these things?

J: Yeah. Well, interestingly, you obviously pay body corporate fees with regards to the rubbish. And we quite surprisingly found that

Once we started to compost all of our compost and take our soft plastics for recycling, we went from about 800 litres of rubbish to like 80.

J: It was ridiculous.

T: Wow!

J: Couldn’t believe how little rubbish we produced.

T: That is significant.

J: It’s 90 percent food waste –  not waste as in food that’s not being eaten, but waste as in the off cuts of cauliflower leaves and the bottoms of broccoli and then all those offshoots of  the groceries that you can’t serve customers. Onion peels, etc.. So yeah, it was a huge  revelation. So now our rubbish footprint is substantially reduced. And it was all quite easy, really.

T:  And that was a cost savings for you as well.

J: Absolutely. That’s right.

O: We did the tally in order to get an Actsmart accreditation for business recycling. But other things, as I’m sure you’d agree, the impact is a lot harder to measure. So sometimes we hope that we do the right thing, but it’s hard to know down the line what actually happens.

O: Which is a challenge as well, because there is a lot of – the term greenwashing where things are sold to you as being environmentally friendly and you want to believe it, but it is important to do more our research. And we really do try to do that because we know it is a trend, and sometimes it’s easy to fall in the trap of things being sold as being something when they’re not actually. So we try and look at the life cycle and the end life of the things that we have in the shop and the things that we use.

J:  Yeah. Olivia is the eternal optimist, and I’m the relentless sceptic. I often question whether the efforts we go to see their end result that we hope that they do. For example, the soft plastics, you drop off all these bags of soft plastics and you just sort of putting them in the hallway of Coles, you think, “Are they really going to be used again to make something more beneficial?” But from my understanding, they do. So that’s great.

T:  Well, you should listen to the last episode that I just published  because I actually interviewed one of the people (Mark Yates of Replas) that actually recycles those plastics into products. So, I think you’ll be pleasantly happy to know that they are actually being used.

O:  That’s great news actually.

A Canadian not-for-profit called La Vague

T: Olivia, I know you told me that you started a not for profit called La Vague.

O:  Yeah. La Vague.

T: Do you want to talk about that a little bit? Yeah.

O: Well I did that back home in Canada, so I’m not from Australia originally. And, I started that actually after being at Local Press in Australia for about a year. And so Local Press really inspired me because I realised that if another cafe at the other end of the world was interested in becoming more green and reducing the environmental footprint, then it must must be the same case for cafes in Canada.

O: So I went round and just spoke to a lot of cafe owners and asked them what their take on the whole thing was. And they all said, “Yep, we’d love to do it. It’s just all too hard, all too expensive and all too time consuming.”

O:  So what La Vague is really is a not for profit with the goal of bringing cafe owners and cafe goers together to come up with solutions to become more eco-friendly in cafes specifically and looking at the impact of some of their practices and doing the research that’s necessary to find the best solutions. For example, you know, all the cafes are selling reusable keep cups. But what is the best material to sell a keep cup in? Is it glass? Is it plastic? Is it bamboo? And so we look at things like that, and it really picked up quite quickly.

O:  I’m no longer responsible for that. But I’ve left it in good hands, I believe, and it’s gone and done its own thing while I’m here in Australia. So it’s been really nice to see the interest in owners, and it all started up with volunteers and lawyers and people with a masters in environmental science who just came together and said, “ Yep, let’s work, and put our thinking caps on and make this happen.”

T:  So, is that in all of Canada or just Montreal?

O: For now, it’s in Quebec. So, yeah, it’s in the province. I think most of the cafes who are part of it are in Montreal, but it’s definitely growing.

T: We’ll make sure we put the link (in the show notes) if people want to check out that program there in Canada that you started. Have you thought about setting up something similar here in Australia?

O: I have thought of it and I’d like to do it, but it is very, very, very time consuming. And truthfully, I did it all as a volunteer. So, I don’t necessarily think I have time to do it here, but the idea is out there and if anyone would like to do it.

T:  You could teach them how.

O: Yeah.  And I’m sure that if people were interested back home in Canada, they would be here as well. I always good to join forces, and I think the reason it worked is because everyone realised that if they can put a little bit of effort in and get a big reward out of it, they’d be keen to do.

O: Whereas a small business owner realising that they have to do the whole thing on their own and go from a regular cafe to a sustainable cafe and incur the costs and whatever else – might seem like a much bigger challenge. 

T: I think it’s a great idea.

A message to our listeners

T: Jonathan, Olivia. Is there anything you want to share with our listeners, or do you have any requests for them?

J: Keep using your keep cup. Don’t forget it. Don’t forget it in your car. Don’t lose it and just decide to buy a new one. They also have a big footprint. Yeah. Plastic has a footprint.

O: That one time – customer is coming in and it happens so often. You know the excuse, “I forgot it. I forgot my cup. I keep forgetting it.” But, eight billion people might be saying that around the world. I mean, it’s not 8 billion, but you know what I mean? Some people get three coffees a day in a take- away cup.  So, that one time can have an impact.

J: Yeah. But I think ultimately it does require small sacrifices from a lot of people. As the name “La Vague” suggests, it is a wave and it’s growing. And I reckon the quicker you jump on it, the easier the transition is going to be.

More and more people are taking the initiative to take environmental steps in their personal lives and within the business. It’s a topic that isn’t going to go away. It’s only going to become more profound and it’s only beginning going to become more urgent. So I think the more little steps that people can do in their day to day lives, I think they’ll find personal satisfaction from it.

T:: And I don’t think they’ll look back if we’re just talking about the straw. People complained a year ago and now everything’s already changed. They’re not even thinking about it at all. Right?

O:  Yeah, exactly. And once it becomes a habit, it’s it seems a lot easier for everyone.

Sustainability goals?

T:  Do you have any sustainability goals for the next, say, 12 months or further?

J:  No. What we’re doing here is work in progress, and we’ll just continue to morph it and mould it and grow it. The few initiatives we’ve put on recently with regards to recycling the electrics and things like that look like they’re being really well received to the local community. So, we’ll keep going in that direction. And I mean, I think we’ll just continue sourcing good products that have got a positive impact on the environment and trying to introduce them to customers. And I think if there was a goal, it’s to make more customers aware.

O:  Yeah. I think it’s for people to know what we’re doing and know that we’re not just a café, or we don’t just have food in here. We’ve got all these cool initiatives that they can be a part of. One thing we are pushing is sustainability events in this venue. And we’d like to have them on a regular basis coming up, because we think that’s a good way to let people know what we’re about, and how they can be a part of it. Because I feel like

If they feel like they’re part of the effort, then they’re part of the solution. And that’s very rewarding.

T: So if they want to host an event here, they just get a hold of you guys.

J: Yeah, absolutely. They can. They can contact us on that you could possibly post that up on.

T: Yeah, definitely put on the show notes.

J: Olivia and I will definitely respond.

T: Any other ways they can contact you.

J: Email is the best way. But we’ve got Facebook, Instagram and on our website, Local Press Cafe.  Look, any of those avenues will they’ll get to us.

T: And La Vague, the website? Is just on Instagram isn’t it?

O: So La Vague –  we do have the website, however, it’s in French. So, I’m sure most of our listeners in English won’t be able to understand much of it, but I guess if they want to see what we’re up to, Instagram would probably be the best way.

T: We’ll make sure that all that information is on the show net so people can follow you in and check out all the things that you’re doing right now.

T: Guys, thank you so much for being a great example about how a cafe can do some extra things just to be more sustainable from the simple things like straws which weren’t so simple at one point to the coffee cups, to all the other options that you’re providing your own customers. I think you’re also giving ideas to our listeners and other cafe owners to see that there’s actually a value in this.  And there’s a cost savings too in terms of staff turnover, we’ve talked about food waste. There’s just so many good reasons to do this. And it’s not just for the environment, it’s also good for the bottom line.

J:  Absolutely. Thanks very much for having us.

O: Yeah, it was lovely.