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June 20, 2021

Dissolving waste into wonders

San Juan enterprise specializes in compostable commerce

While California takes steps toward saving the environment, restaurants need to catch up.

Walk out of a restaurant with leftovers and you’re likely carrying styrofoam containers with plastic utensils and straws. All of which could end up in a landfill or the ocean.

One San Juan Bautista resident is trying to change that.

Howard Cohen is the owner of Certified Compostables, a San Juan-based company specializing in selling 100 percent compostable products.

Certified Compostables carries over 300 products, including plates made of wheatgrass fiber and “plastic” containers comprised entirely of plant-based material. Other items like hot and cold cups, coffee lids, soup bowls, clamshells, and deli containers are available.

“These products dissolve back into the ground within 120 days,” Cohen said. “Even the utensils. I’m not going to sell anything that’s not 100 percent compostable.”

Cohen said the business is currently targeting four main markets: San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and around the Monterey peninsula.

“I’m hoping to take it around,” Cohen said. “There’s been a lot of legislation in San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They’ve all banned styrofoam and single-use bags. There’s only one alternative: turn to the compostables. Everybody’s doing it.”

Current clients locally include the Jardines de San Juan restaurant in San Juan Bautista, The Bagel Corner and Pastability’s in Salinas, The Fish Hopper and El Cantaro in Monterey, and Carney’s Hot Dogs and Erewhon organic markets in Los Angeles.

Jardines General Manager Marcus Edwards said the restaurant is passionate about composting and greener ways of doing business.

“We want to go above and beyond caring about the environment,” he said.

The restaurant puts avocado husks, lettuce cores and other produce waste in composting piles.

“We actually have three piles: one resting, one added to and one using,” Edwards said. “We use that all around our garden. We reuse everything we possibly can.”

The idea for compostable restaurant products came about from Cohen’s time in the ocean.

“I go out into ocean a lot and I see trash floating around,” Cohen said. “It makes me feel good now that I’m selling these products to restaurants. I’m taking bad products out of the environment and putting good products in. The start of the whole thing was to get the trash out and to stop polluting everything.”

Cohen started thinking about the styrofoam to-go boxes and plastic utensils dished out by restaurants.

“Every single meal, I get one to three straws given to me,” he said. “I don’t even use them. I started thinking about the waste going on. If they asked if I needed a straw, most people might say no.”

Edwards said he likes to support local businesses and that using compostable to-go containers was natural.

“Why wouldn’t we?” Edwards said. “It’s a shame that it’s an option to not use biodegradable products. We hope other businesses will jump onboard and start looking at greener ways of doing business. It all starts with us as managers, owners, the people that make those decisions. With minimal effort, you can make a huge difference.”

The idea of recycling and reusing waste is great, but the problem is actually doing it, Cohen said.

“The bins are not available in those places you go to,” he said. “You go to a restaurant and it still ends up all in the same bin. It’s difficult for the restaurant and consumer. They shouldn’t have to do it. There’s got to be a better alternative and that’s why I came up with it. You can throw it all in the same bin and it’ll dissolve with zero effect on the environment. People don’t have to think about it.”

Nicholas Preciado
Addicted to coffee and politics.

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