Published 1 month ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Choice Organics
Excess is inevitable; and we should re-evaluate our understanding of what
businesses do with it accordingly. Instead of thinking of excesses as the end of a story, recognize the potential of wastes as the start of something new.
Waste management is a big challenge. From
LCAs, figuring out what to do with excess material is a familiar problem for any
sustainability practitioner. Many of our most pressing environmental challenges,
stem from difficulties managing the extra, unproductive stuff — from
— our economy generates.
Waste is everywhere — particularly, in the food business. Livestock operations
are infamous for theirs, which has been known to spectacularly
on occasion. Food operations of all stripes have waste-generating inputs,
produce yet more waste during production, then ship outputs in plastic and
cardboard — creating yet more waste.
Some products generate waste systemically.
is a particularly egregious example: After processing, it is estimated that
only 6 percent of the coffee cherry makes it to the
cup. The rest,
including an edible and nutritious fruit called
cascara, is often left to rot —
producing the potent greenhouse gas
and polluting local water supplies. Sale of cascara for consumption was even
illegal in the EU from
further complicating efforts to use it in more productive ways.
From a cradle-to-grave perspective, what many companies — in many industries,
not just food — accomplish is the filling of landfills, with a brief period of
use somewhere between manufacture and permanent disposal. Suffice to say, this
carelessness about waste creation will not do. We’re exhausting Earth’s
resources; and the real costs of producing so much waste are increasingly
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There are plenty of new ideas about reuse and recycling, but the philosophy of
waste is worth a look. French writer Georges
Bataille understood excess to
be an integral part of all systems. In his controversial, often radical writing,
all things produce excesses: Human societies produce excess energy, which gets
accounted for productively in the arts or destructively in wars. The Earth
produces excess energy, which gets released explosively in earthquakes and
volcanoes. Even life itself, for Bataille, is a kind of excess — a manifestation
of surplus energy from the sun. In the first volume of The Accursed Share,
“The living organism … ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life … If the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely absorbed in its growth, it must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically.”
In other words, every system will produce an excess; but what happens to that
extra stuff has consequences. A look at our current environmental crises,
brought on by unaccounted-for material, demonstrates the need for a paradigm
shift. Ignoring it, or sending it out of
is not a solution — it’s only the delay of an inevitable reckoning.
So, how to change the paradigm? First, recognize that excesses are an integral
part of daily operations that need to be accounted for. Businesses must abandon
two-dimensional, linear thinking — where there’s only a straight line between
upstream and downstream, with neat endpoints on either side. Instead, realize
that production occurs in three dimensions — so the inevitable excess can be
productively folded back into the supply chain instead of senselessly
jettisoned. Waste never simply disappears; however, good we get at hiding it.
Instead, it is a part of production that can and should be utilized, like any
other input or output. That shift in thinking is the difference between burying
our problems and opening new spaces for creativity — or, in Bataille’s terms,
the difference between glory and catastrophe.
For us at Yogi, we’re forever finding ways to
recontextualize the excesses in our supply chain. In Sri Lanka, farmers were
struggling with a governmental ban on imported fertilizer. The solution was in
the garbage: Aided by our funding, one of our cinnamon
suppliers began using processed cinnamon bark —
previously discarded during the production of cinnamon oil — as a source of
organic fertilizer. On September 7, the first dispersal of this renewable,
restorative fertilizer went out to farmers; and the program is set to create 15
tons every month — all from what used to be trash.
In our facilities, rather than turning a blind eye to the shortcomings of
we partnered with another local firm to compile our
plastic waste and sell it to a company that uses it to
produce resilient outdoor flooring.
Novel approaches to excess materials have even found their way into our
products. Cacao shells, delicious and overlooked byproducts of chocolate
production, add richness and depth to our Choice Organics Cocoa Mint
The bottom line, following Bataille, is that excess is inevitable — and we
should re-evaluate our understanding of what businesses do with it accordingly.
Instead of thinking of excesses as the end of a story, recognize the potential
of wastes as the start of something new. As I’ve
the words we use and the stories we tell matter. Thinking of excesses as trash,
something only to be discarded, precludes the idea that they could be useful.
What waste offers is
— from helping farmers to building patios, flavoring teas to making new
to even getting value from surplus atmospheric
Trash is always treasure — the difference is only in how we look at it.
Published Oct 16, 2023 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
John Broadway is a Sustainability Marketing Specialist at East West Tea Company, which owns and operates Yogi Tea.