As a distillery owner, I have spent nearly 10 years attending every kind of tasting and cocktail event hosted in the spirits world, in the USA and overseas. I sponsor art, music and film festivals, attend industry trade shows and bartend at some of the bar world’s most prestigious gatherings. But I am fed up.
Cleaning up at the end of events, I couldn’t avoid seeing trash cans filled to overflowing with plastic cups, straws, napkins and stir sticks. It started to make me sick. I was the problem. Not the organizers, not the distillery next to me. Me. I had to make the change.
About five years ago, I began a sustainability revolution inside my own distillery. I began by converting all of Montanya’s energy consumption to sustainable sources, primarily wind, and offsetting Montanya’s carbon production. I extended the corporate program to my employees’ homes as well.
Then Montanya ditched plastic cups and straws company-wide. All of the consumables at our tasting room are either glass, fully recycled paper products (napkins, paper towels, toilet paper) reusable (stainless steel straws, stirrers) or compostable (food waste, trash bags). Montanya’s merchandise is sustainably-sourced (t-shirts made from old X-rays and ketchup bottles, hats from recycled polyester).
The distillery switched sugarcane suppliers to a 100% biomass-operated mill and began to offset our carbon production for freight, travel and distilling. The revolution went deep into our supply chain.
I’m not finished yet. Every year I take more steps along the sustainability path set for Montanya. In 2016, I began limiting participation and sponsorships to zero and very low waste events or events that allow us to bring our own serving supplies.
Trash doesn’t look good on an event. The aesthetic is almost as important to us as the cocktails and spirits we serve. A beautifully launched event can be ruined by piles of trash accumulating at the periphery or on the tables. Glass and stainless steel improve almost everything about the look and feel. Most importantly, 80-proof alcohol acts as a solvent on plastic and that changes the flavor of any spirit. Consumers should be saying “no” to plastic at spirits-tasting events.
Biodegradable and recyclable cups are rarely biodegraded and recycled. Unless these expensive cups and containers are conveyed to a facility that biodegrades or recycles, they are just like other plastic cups—still in the landfill in 100 years. Eco cups are a “feel good” thing at most events, so I ditched them. I seek events to sponsor that provide all participants with a glass to use or allow us to serve in a glass. Most venues have commercial dishwashers and copious glassware. Plastic is just the lazy choice. Many events will help find a solution if they value your participation.
If you don’t bring plastic cups and straws to an event, you won’t use them. We used to bring backup plastic cups to events as a convenience for our customers. Once we ditched even this convenience plastic, customers and event planners got better about providing glass alternatives.
Nobody needs a straw. Americans toss 500 million drinking straws a day. Why? Nobody really knows, except that it is a habit. Perhaps it is a little relaxing to stir a cocktail? I provide stainless steel straws and stirring sticks at cocktail events and in Montanya’s rum bar. I also sell them whenever possible, so people won’t steal them.
Control your garbage. If something needs to be recycled, like a cardboard case box or empty rum bottles, I take it myself to a proper recycling bin. After watching too many event staffers toss boxes and glass into the nearest trash can to avoid the extra steps, I stopped letting them help me.
Collaborate with sustainable partners. Montanya Distillers hosts and sponsors hundreds of industry events and bartender events each year. If I am near home and driving, I negotiate to bring my own serving glasses and dishes. Farther from home, I borrow and return all kinds of reusables. I also research and find vendors who meet my zero-waste standards and invite them to collaborate on our events.
Recently I hosted a lunch for 44 San Francisco bartenders with Green Tiffin. We served 44 individual lunches without a single throwaway item. In August 2017, I sponsored an art festival lounge, which served 400 cocktails without a single item going in the trash. I also donated the plastic bags the ice was delivered in to a company that uses plastic bags to make Trex decking.
I often hear industry folks say they prefer to “travel light.” Nobody gets to travel light. It is just a question of who carries the load. Either Montanya Distillers takes care of things, or this planet does. I’d rather carry around a few cases of shot glasses than leave behind a big pile of plastic trash.