Feeding the Green Machine

There was an article last week in the New York Times about how “going green” is going more mainstream…in small towns like Nantucket, some schools and corporate communities, the concept of “zero waste” is taking hold in a big way. I’m glad to see people are more and more moving towards reducing waste, reusing and recycling. Here in the Hamptons, I see more and more grocery store shoppers using reusable grocery bags. But I’m proud to say that other measures have been in place here for years.

When Chris and I first moved to the East End, East Hampton was just putting the finishing touches on its recycling center (formerly known as the dump), and we really got into the “source separating” necessary before you could get rid of your trash. Beyond the usual bins for plastic, aluminum cans, newspaper, and cardboard, there were separate bays for glass (one each for green, brown, and clear), batteries — whether tiny AAAA or automobile, mixed paper (for all that junk mail!), and the immensely popular household exchange section euphemistically called “Caldor East,” after one of Kmart’s defunct competitors. Additionally, the leaves you collected for curbside pick up each Fall was returned to the center where, using green and some food waste, they produced wonderful mulch which you could come back with your garbage can and pick up in the Spring for free. Going to the dump and splitting up our stuff into all these stations was amazingly gratifying. We’d leave feeling like we’d done something, saved a little teeny bit of the Earth from landfill overflow.

Recycling is in both Chris’s and my blood…whether it is repairing and refinishing furniture found in a thrift store or yard sale, or repurposing an item whose purpose is obsolete into something useful or decorative. Don’t even get me started on all the offcuts and discarded building materials Chris has fished out of the dumpsters on construction sites. And oh boy, do we compost. All those orange peels from the OJ, the hulls of strawberries and skins of pineapples, the thousands of eggshells, all the coffee grounds…Chris’s team of compost engineers, the earthworms, love all the green waste we deposit on the compost bin daily. And his garden thrives with the resulting nutrient-rich soil. The photo above shows some of that rich soil on the ground in front of the bin where it is made, and the vegetables that benefit from it.

In the hospitality industry, “going green” is a big catchphrase nowadays. When we established A Butler’s Manor in early 2002, we knew we wanted to create luxurious accommodations with every amenity our guests might need. But deciding how to present these amenities presented a challenge. Our research turned up the dismaying fact that, even when made of “recyclable” plastic, those cute little bottles found in high-end hotels are in fact NOT being recycled. Plastic recycling begins with shredding, but because the amenity bottles are too small to fit on the conveyor belts, they quite literally fall through the cracks and end up in landfills. .And individually wrapped bars of soap…arrrgh! No, we couldn’t do it. So how to do provide our guests with the quality we wanted, yet with the least amount of environmental waste? We chose to do the following:

— Mounted dispensers in the shower for our premium quality shampoo and conditioner
— Full-sized bottles of Bath and Body Works’ Aromatherapy line of shower/bath gels and hand soap
— Bath salts, shower caps, dental and shaving needs provided in boxes made of recycled card stock
— Glass tumblers, changed daily, rather than plastic-wrapped plastic cups
— Glass water carafes with tumblers for our filtered water, rather than plastic bottles of water
— One copy of the daily New York Times to share between five rooms, rather than individual copies (in eight years of operation, this has never caused a problem…in fact, guests meet each other swapping sections over coffee)

After much consideration, the one amenity we decided we had to provide in small bottles is mouthwath, replacing our (repurposed!) crystal liquor carafes of Scope in view of possible hygiene concerns. It remains a difficult choice.

We believe the days of individually-wrapped hotel amenities are numbered. Our world just can’t afford the waste. One bright light: Not long ago, Sean Doane of CBS Evening News did a story on how two former traveling salesmen founded a business called Clean The World to recycle those tiny bars of soap and send them to Haiti where, despite the known link between hygiene and the spread of disease, soap is a luxury few can afford. (We’ve all been reminded lately how important it is to wash your hands in order to halt the spread of the H1N1 and other flu viruses.) How cool is that?

Meanwhile, here in our tiny corner of the world in Southampton, we’ll try to do our part too.

Quote of the Day: Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find. — quoted in Time Magazine

(For more information on Clean The World and how you can help, click here.)

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