Mayor Jim Kenney first signed the executive order that created the city’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, which is charged with creating a comprehensive plan for waste reduction and litter prevention.
“A clean Philadelphia is a vibrant and healthy Philadelphia,” said the mayor in a press release at the time. “With this Executive Order, I’m assembling a group of experts from within and outside of government to identify more effective ways to increase our waste diversion rate and tackle the long-standing problems of litter and cleanliness that many of our neighborhoods have long struggled with.”
After Nic Esposito was appointed director of the cabinet, Esposito and company soon came up with an action plan to convert the city into a zero waste entity by 2035. Part of that plan included the creation of the Zero Waste Partnership program for businesses, which was recently launched earlier this year. The very first business in the city to earn the Zero Waste designation was South Philly’s own Remark Glass, a glassmaking company based in the Bok Building.
“Essentially, we’re certified now to be zero waste, and it just gives us a real talking point,” said Remark co-owner and co-founder Rebecca Davies. “I used to say, ‘Our glass is locally sourced and energy efficient.’ Being zero waste certified, however, is a way for Davies’ customers to know that they’re doing more than simply buying a beautiful piece of glass art. They’re also supporting a business that’s dedicated to greening their local community.
“There’s something meaty behind that,” Davies said.
Being Zero Waste, however, does not literally mean the company emits zero waste.
“There’s no such thing as a truly zero waste business,” said Mark Ellis, another co-founder and co-owner of Remark. The way it works is there are three levels of certification the city gives out. The first is the gold status, which means that 90 percent of a company’s waste is diverted from landfills or incinerators. In addition, the company must complete nine out of 10 “zero waste actions” designated by the city. Zero waste actions include activities like performing a comprehensive waste audit, purchasing or obtaining gently used workplace furniture and communicating electronically instead of on paper whenever possible.
Then there’s the silver status, which a business earns if 70 percent of its waste is diverted and at least seven of the 10 zero waste actions are completed.
The final level is the “zero waste partner” level, which is essentially given to any business that dedicates time and resources to tracking the waste they put out and dedicates itself to trying to reduce its carbon footprint. Currently, no businesses in Philly have earned gold status. Remark is one of just two businesses, along with Two Logan Square, to earn silver status. One Logan Square, Three Logan Square, the University City District and DiPinto guitars are the four businesses that have earned the lower threshold partner status.
When Esposito is asked if any business in the city is capable of at least earning the partnership status, he doesn’t hesitate to say yes.
“Once you get in the groove, it’s not that hard to keep a log of [the waste you put out],” he said. “It’s getting people to be more conscious of the waste they create.”
Each day, Ellis estimates that Remark pumps out about 40 glasses. But Remark doesn’t “make” glasses so much as it reforms them. Typically, the company will acquire glass products for free from individuals who drop them off because they don’t want to throw them away. The company also makes rounds around the city collecting glass products from bars and other small businesses around the city, oftentimes in the pursuit of specific bottles. For instances, Remark will stop by Blue Mountain Vineyards in Center City once every two months to pick up leftover blue bottles the winery usually has left over.
“We have partnerships with particular bars that are serving one brand or one bottle that we really need and we’ll do a route,” said Davies. “It’s not an everyday route or anything like that. I don’t have a driver for it. It’ll just be like one of us out running an errand.”
After Remark collects the glasses, they are eventually put into a reheating chamber, which heats the glass to the point where it becomes malleable. Once it’s nice and hot, a team of two people work to reshape the glass into a new formation.
Davies is proud that she sources her glass materials locally, and doesn’t depend on international supply chains to conduct her business. Her networking with other local small businesses allows the profit to stay in the community.
“I am an advocate for local business,” she said. “I want to do as much business locally as possible and I don’t want to rely on a supply chain that comes from China. That’s what’s different about what we do here.”
She considers the business a “triple bottom line business,” which means it focuses on people, planet and profit.
“Relationships with the community are a currency that we use,” not just money, Davies explained. “It’s spending that currency and banking that currency that we really strive towards. That’s what makes this possible.”