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Monday, April 15, 2019

Seed to Cup to Can: New Orleans Coffee Shop Doesn’t Have a Trash Bin?

by Emily Jean McCollister

HEY Coffee Co. is a New Orleans roastery and coffee shop producing high quality coffee with an emphasis on traceability from seed to cup to trash can. With two locations, one on Magazine St. and one on the Lafitte Greenway, the folks at Hey Coffee Co. are not your average micro-roaster. They are also a living example of a business that has an extremely low landfill dependency.

Photo: Emily Jean McCollister
Photo: Emily Jean McCollister

The discussion of “seed-to-cup” is a familiar one in the specialty coffee scene. Simply put, seed to cup is the consideration of coffee from a seed planted in a nursery, through growth, harvesting, processing, sorting, bagging, exporting and finally, roasting and brewing. Thinking intentionally about all the hands involved in those steps, and caring about their quality of life, a specialty coffee shop wants to present a cup to their customer that’s more than just coffee: it’s a story. Although many shops think critically about where their coffee and materials come from, very rarely do they think about where things go when we’re done with them.

Easily the most eco-conscious coffee shop in South Louisiana, HEY Coffee Co. strives to be more and more sustainable with every day that passes. In 2018, they were recognized by Rubicon Global as Best in Louisiana, they then advanced as national finalists alongside 14 other environmentally conscious businesses in the United States for Best Business in America

Photo: Emily Jean McCollister
Photo: Emily Jean McCollister


Tommy LeBlanc, one of the shop’s owners, started zeroing in on their composting program when he had difficulty with a city garbage contract in 2009. They began composting in partnership with Schmelly’s Dirt Farms. Today, nine years later, they have no trash can in either of their stores, at all.

Composting all food and coffee grinds is a radically positive environmental practice. Even if that were all a coffee shop did, it would have a dramatic impact. Food waste is one of the largest drivers of greenhouse gas emissions, when food is disposed in a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane - a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Embodying creativity, HEY Coffee Co. not only recycles and composts but also trades with local stores and secures homes for items like burlap and pallets, sending very little to the landfill.

Although LeBlanc has always been a nature lover who enjoyed camping and the great outdoors, he was once a standard American consumer. He certainly did not set out to operate an eco-friendly coffee shop when he opened Hey! Cafe. In 2009, he realized how incredibly dependent businesses were on waste pickup, and how much they were sending to the landfill. “We didn’t think about lowering our landfill dependency until the garbage company stopped picking up my trash, even though I was paying my bill,” LeBlanc remarked.

Through trying to get out of his contract with the waste disposal company he was using, he started research other waste disposal companies. “I realized that disposal companies are crooked. In addition to them being crooked toward me, they buy land near communities and essentially poison the areas nearby,” LeBlanc asserted, “In my research, I learned about all these lawsuits against waste companies and I wanted to challenge our need for them.”

Photo: Emily Jean McCollister
Photo: Emily Jean McCollister


Traditional to-go cups at coffee shops are not recyclable at all. Disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic polyethylene, which makes the cups waterproof and able to hold liquid. Offering an in-house option of reusable cups, plates and utensils, HEY Coffee Co. is able to cut down on the waste. If you need your coffee or food to-go, you’ll receive a compostable option.

In more recent years, the team at HEY Coffee Co. has set up their own sparkling water to run through a tap line, totally knocking out the need for bottles and the waste that accompanies that, especially because New Orleans does not recycle glass.

They receive their whole milk from Progress Milk Barn in glass containers that are picked up on delivery and reused. They provide non-dairy milk options, some of which they make themselves. 

Photo: Emily Jean McCollister
Photo: Emily Jean McCollister

The shop offers noodle straws, and a small stash of plastic ones, should you require one. They sell their roasted coffee in brown paper bags, they sell merchandise like coffee mugs and shirts, and they sell coffee equipment and even a few reusable containers.

The baristas sort waste in buckets behind the bar as they go. Removing the ability for a customer to accidentally sort incorrectly, and removing the weight of responsibility from their customers, they simply instruct you to place all your items in the bus bin. HEY Coffee employees sort out all waste at dish pit: compost, recycling, reusables, and landfill trash. 

Photo: Emily Jean McCollister
Photo: Emily Jean McCollister


Today, HEY Coffee Co. does it all. Their mission statement from their website reads as follows
“presenting the utmost in community, hospitality and quality while advocating for equity and environmental justice at all levels of the coffee industry through radical conservation and supporting sustainable, traceable and ethical farming practices.”

Treating every customer as a friend, LeBlanc is kind, quick to laugh, and easy to talk to. Incredibly gracious and unassuming, you would maybe never know the great strides they take to make HEY Coffee a shop with low landfill dependency. Considering every step from seed, to cup, to waste bin -- HEY Coffee Co. is a neighborhood eco-friendly hot spot in New Orleans.

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