Creating a Simple, Stylish Zero-Waste Solution

Transitioning from spirits to sustainability

Imagine this:

You head to an early flight before you’ve had a chance to grab breakfast and coffee. You swing by a café where you are handed a to-go coffee cup with a plastic lid. The flight attendant gives you a plastic water bottle and orange juice in a plastic cup. Your breakfast and lunch both come in plastic clamshells with disposable cutlery and a side of dressing in a plastic ramekin. You grab an apple and even it is plastic-wrapped. You buy a magazine or book and you receive a plastic shopping bag. By the end of the day, you have accumulated and thrown away some 20 pieces of convenience trash that you used only once.

Then you wake up and do it all again.

If you are like me, you travel often for work and pleasure. Take one day like this, run it across your calendar and you’ll quickly have accepted more than 3,000 pieces of convenience trash. Look around an airplane and you will see 400 travelers like you. Together you will throw away 1.2 million pieces of garbage after one use every year. Add today to what you throw away at home and you will personally toss 185 pounds of plastic a year. Only 9 pecent or so will be recycled.

US Airlines generates 1 million plastic cups every six hours, and Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year. The Coca-Cola Co. made 1 billion more plastic bottles in 2016 than in 2015 to keep up with rising demand. In the next decade, Exxon Mobile Chemical and Shell Chemical plastics facilities will help fuel a 40 percent rise in plastic production. China, the largest user of plastic scrap, has announced it will stop accepting plastic scrap imports as of Jan. 1, 2018. This causes plastic recycling in the U.S. to nosedive and American companies to take a $185 billion bet in increasing domestic plastic production. It is a scenario of more, more, more and then some more. The increases are exponential.

More than two years ago, I began to recognize this problem. It was like moving through the “stages of grief”. First, I began to notice, then I began to tally my own use and the use of those around me. Then I became overwhelmed and legitimately furious. Next, I felt powerless and dejected as I tried to figure out what to do to make a change. Finally, I became galvanized. You know that look people get in their eyes when you’d better not step between them and their personal mission?

That was me.

I made a New Year’s Resolution to refuse single-use convenience trash. All of it. Not just now and then. Not just when I wasn’t busy or stressed.

All day, every single day.

I had some colossal failures. I bought a collapsible silicone bowl to carry in my purse for to-go food and soup. The first time I put soup in it, the bowl, in fact, collapsed – hot soup spilling all over me. I ordered reusable shopping bags that lasted all of one week before the handles broke off. It took me, and one of my close friends, eight months of trying and testing products to develop a set of systems that works for us every day at home and on the road. When we finally dialed it in, people would stop and stare, and many would say “I want that.”

So Zoetica was born.

My business partner Elizabeth Smith wanted to share with others what we had labored to create, so you wouldn’t need to puzzle through it the way we did. We wanted our college teenagers to have a system, along with our husbands and coworkers. Companies were already making each of the products, but someone needed to pull the products together. We did this with an eye on style, convenience, performance, compactness and lightweight design. We hoped that we could be a force to reverse the trend by giving people the tools they needed to make personal change.

We created a product line of Zoetica Zero Waste Systems™ we launched on Sept. 12th, 2017. The Warrior is our most comprehensive system, which contains a double walled coffee cup, water bottle/thermos, two nesting to-go containers, a set of cutlery, a straw, napkin, shopping bag and produce bag. The Warrior does double duty as a purse or tote. This product will soon come in a unisex backpack style as well.

We created The Wayfarer, which is a smaller grab-and-go pack with mostly the same items in the Warrior only more compact. This includes a smaller coffee cup and no water bottle, making it ideal to throw in the car or a carry on. We created The Nomad, an even smaller pack that can slide easily into a computer bag, backpack, or purse and is great for students. The Bag of Bags, which is a four-eight bag system for grocery shopping, empowers you to refuse plastic shopping and produce bags. It is the size of a paperback or hardcover book. As we have worked with focus groups and observed customers, we have added Picnic and Festival Kits and Build-Your-Own Systems. We have begun to expand color choices and created kid’s options as well.

I have now removed convenience trash like paper towels, plastic wrap, Ziplocs, paper plates,and plastic cups from my kitchen, thanks to Zoetica.

The goal is to equip for our zero-waste life. Next, we will certify cafes, restaurants, vendors and sellers so they will respect and actively support the notion of a zero-waste life.  

Rewind to that travel day. Now I head to an early flight and when I swing by a coffee shop, hand them my high-performance Zoetica Cup, which will keep my coffee hot for five hours and doesn't spill. The flight attendant offers a plastic water bottle and I say “No thanks, I have my own,” which they fill.  (Flight attendants are often relieved and pleased.) I carry a smaller cup for my orange juice, wine or cocktail and refuse the plastic cups over and over on planes. I ask for my breakfast and lunch “for here” and transfer it into my own stainless steel to-go container, or the vendor does it for me. I also sometimes fill it myself from their food/salad bar. I say no to plastic shopping bags because I carry my own lightweight and compact carry-alls. I even bring my snacks from home in a reusable bag I can wash and reuse infinitely.  

By the end of a normal travel day, I have refused 20 pieces of convenience trash. I wake up and do it all over again, with an incredible sense of empowerment. I wash up a few things in the airport or hotel bathroom to reset, but this is truly no big deal.

Now, when people say, “I want that”, I hand them my business card. Our company sold nearly $100,000 in systems and reusable products in the first quarter. We did this without a single dollar spent on marketing. We provided corporate gifts for the holidays for companies wanting to “walk the talk”.  

What will your system be?

Karen Hoskin has been an entrepreneur for almost 20 years. She is also the owner and founder of Montanya Distillers, a craft rum distillery in Crested Butte.

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