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Five Watt leads composting efforts in the local beverage business

How Five Watt Coffee hopes to lead the way in composting
How Five Watt Coffee hopes to lead the way in composting 03:26

MINNEAPOLIS — Every year, 50 billion coffee cups end up in landfills in the U.S. Most paper cups can't be recycled, but newer technology allows for compostable paperboard cups made from raw materials that meet forest management standards and can withstand boiling water. 

When Five Watt Coffee first came onto the scene nearly a decade ago, there weren't many sustainable options for to-go coffee cups.

"When we first started looking into stuff it was very few compostable partners and it was a very expensive start-up," owner Lee Carter said.

Since then, consumer demand for sustainable goods has increased.

"These businesses create products that create waste. We can't not consume so it's important to choose something that has less of a negative effect," Lucas Wallinga, of Minneapolis, said.

Government leaders have also taken notice. Businesses in Hennepin County producing more than a ton of trash every week have been required to compost and recycle food waste since 2020.

"The local government here has a lot of government programs that will help incentivize people to do this composting or help incentivize as business to offer these services," Carter said.

Five Watt's coffee cups are made from plant-based and tree-free bamboo. Typical single-use coffee cups are not recyclable, because they're coated with plastic and are believed to be just as harmful as plastic cups. Carter still uses plastic cups for cold drinks as the compostable cold cups he tried were too brittle. 

"We've had them in-house before and we'll have long breaks down the side of the cup. So we're just waiting for the technology to get to a point where we can have fully compostable cups that are really durable," Carter said.

Benefits of compostable products include:

  • Less reliance on non-renewable resources,
  • They reduce food waste going into landfills,
  • They contribute to the production of nutrient-rich compost.

The 2023 "Business of Sustainability Index" found 66% of all U.S. consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable products. That number grows to 80% among adults under 34.

Carter is happy to play his part in contributing to a better earth, one cup at a time. 

"It's important to us to be able to do the right thing not only on a business level but a human level," Carter said.

All the coffee served at Five Watt is roasted on a machine that uses 80% less energy and 80% less emissions than a traditional roasting machine. Carter is also hoping to be able to do on-site composting at the shops in the future.

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