Chowderfest guests get sustainable one washable cup at a time

Mission: Sustainable Chowderfest

By David Sayer

David and Kelsey with Discover Saratoga President Darryl Leggieri

We are very proud of our Zero Waste team this year. They were determined to make Chowderfest 25 the lowest-waste yet. Discover Saratoga, organizers of the event, sat down with our Zero Waste leaders, Kelsey Trudell and David Sayer, to come up with chowder cup and spoon options which would not eventually end up in landfills or incinerators. But previous years’ attempts to introduce reusable chowder mugs– Chugs— prompted businesses concerns about refilling used, unwashed containers.

Certainly a “BYO spoon” campaign and spoons for purchase made sense. But we knew we would have to be bolder if we were serious about creating a model for sustainable change. 

The Plan

Our team came up with the idea of washing and sanitizing each 4 ounce cup after every use. Of course, we would first have to buy or rent real, dishwasher-safe cups. And find dishwashing facilities. And volunteers who are willing to roll up their sleeves.

This recommendation was rooted in the conviction that refill and reuse systems are the only solution to single-use waste and plastic pollution. This sentiment is echoed by our affiliate organization, Beyond Plastics.

But getting 80+ chowder vending organizations to adopt this approach, especially when many do not have dishwashing machines, firmly put our plan in the “fantasy” category. And yet… we knew that if one or two businesses with dishwashers could step forward as Chowderfest Sustainability Partners, we might have a chance to show that REUSE WORKS!

Chowderfest volunteers get sustainable washing and reusing cups

Volunteers washing cups at Caffe Lena

Caffe Lena, the venerable, volunteer-friendly coffeehouse on Phila Street, had no plans to operate during Chowderfest and they own a beautiful dishwasher/sanitizer, albeit one flight of stairs above street level. But our volunteers did not shrink from the prospect of carrying dirty cups up and down stairs on a potentially snowy day… we would just need a chowder-serving restaurant to agree to use our fleet of real cups. We didn’t have to look far. Hattie’s shares the same building as Caffe Lena, and their management was delighted to sign on to our pilot project!

And that’s exactly what happened

Collecting reusable cups for washing

Chowderfest day arrived with warm temperatures heading for the upper 50s. Our twenty amazing volunteers served and engaged the steady crowds for 5+ hours, offering bamboo spoons, collecting and washing cups, and sharing our message of hope. At day’s end, Kelsey counted 806 cups served and re-washed. While this represents less than 1% of the Chowderfest total, we now have a fleet of reusable cups for next year, and a proven and scalable solution that we can help other establishments implement.

We wish to thank Darryl Leggieri and Connie Crudo of Discover Saratoga for organizing a great Chowderfest this year and partnering with us every step of the way. Thank you to our Sustainability Partners, Hattie’s Restaurants / Business for Good and Caffe Lena. Without the support of Llona and Chef Fitz at Hattie’s, and Sarah and Matt at Caffe Lena, this project would not have been possible!

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