Chef Works is a manufacturer of uniforms and culinary apparel for leading hotel chains, restaurant chains, cooking schools, industry suppliers and retailers in more than 60 countries. In this blog, Cynthia McCormick, VP of HR, and Javier Armendariz, Logistics Analyst, share their progress on one of their Sustainability Action Plan waste diversion initiatives since completing a REV Sustainability Circle earlier this year.
Javier: We ship thousands of uniforms every week for our customers. Often, this includes customization — embroidering the customer’s logo on their items. To prepare orders for shipping, each piece is placed in its own single-use plastic garment bag. If it needs to be embroidered, a second single-use bag is required because the embroidery team has to tear the first bag off to complete the embroidering, and then put a new bag on to prepare it for shipping.
When Chef Works decided to participate in the REV Sustainability Circle, I had observed for some time that this process was causing upwards of 10,000 plastic garment bags to be sent to the landfill every month, which comes out to about three tons of plastic every week! It was such an incredible waste. My role is to find the most efficient and cost effective means to get materials to their destination, but I’m also continually looking for ways to decrease our impact.
Cynthia: The first time the REV coaches came to meet with us for an initial review, Javier brought this up. It wasn’t on my radar at all and I was shocked! I had no idea we were throwing away so much plastic. It was really great that the coaches asked us about the bags. It really opened up an internal conversation.
Javier: Although I had already looked into some landfill diversion options for the plastic bags and found them to be too expensive, the Sustainability Circle re-inspired me to dig further. I talked to our recycler at Green Shredding who picks up our cardboard and he said, “let’s try something!” Now, we are bundling our cardboard with our plastic bags and he is picking up both. He was very generous and offered to separate the plastic and the cardboard at their yard so we don’t have to do it here at our facility.
Cynthia: When Javier told me about the research he had already done, I thought we had hit a wall, but the REV coaches encouraged us to keep going. I really appreciated that Javier didn’t give up. When we got the news that we could divert the bags from the landfill, we were elated!
Javier: Since finishing the Sustainability Circle earlier this year, we’ve been socializing this initiative with our employees through word of mouth. Our embroidery team has done a great job in making the change to throwing the bags into recycling bins instead of the trash. Our goal is 100% diversion, so moving forward, we’ll be having more conversations with our teams, and creating clearer signage about where to dispose of the bags. We’ll also be purchasing more recycling bins to make it easier to find and choose the right bin, and to make sure bags don’t end up in the trash because recycling bins get filled up.
Our recycler is also struggling with some of the bags being blown by the wind and he continues to work on a solution for that. We know it’s not a perfect system yet because we’re only diverting about half of the bags which means half are still ending up in landfill. It’s a brand new initiative though, and we’re determined to meet our 100% diversion goal.
Cynthia: We are so glad we participated in the Sustainability Circle because of the conversations like this one that have started at Chef Works. Having a coach to inspire and guide us was really helpful; I can’t put a value on that. When the Circle ended we didn’t stop working on our initiatives. The plan they helped us put together gave us the momentum to keep going.
We are now also looking at reusing some of the printed bags, as they can be resealed. This is exciting news, as this will further reduce waste!