THE IMPACT OF A REUSABLE CUP
Because skin care professionals often offer drinks to their clients, using washable, reusable cups is an easy and efficient way for spas to save money and go green. By offering clients drinks in reusable cups, professionals not only reduce the amount of trash going into landfills, but also save trees and petroleum resources that would have been necessary had they used disposable cups.
More than likely, many people have seen the corn-based, plastic-looking cups that claim to be green and biodegradable. These cups, however, explicitly state that they need to be processed in an industrial composting facility. In this case, and in many others – despite the claims – not all products that are marketed as green are necessarily the best solution. The idea may be nice, but the reality is far from it.
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a biodegradable, thermoplastic, aliphatic polyester derived from starchy renewable resources such as corn, tapioca, sugarcane, and a number of root vegetables. The most commonly used source for PLA in the United States is corn. Corn is an extremely large crop that demands water, pesticides, and large harvesting machines that run on gas, which creates emissions and deteriorates the ozone. Take into consideration the size and nature of a laboratory or factory needed to create the components of PLA, the 392 degrees Fahrenheit needed for production, and the land that is being deforested and dehabitated. Suddenly, those disposable cups have a bigger carbon footprint than originally imagined.
When PLA is recycled, it is energy intensive, meaning that it is carbon creating. If PLA, which looks like PET – the petroleum based plastic that is commonly used for food and beverage containers – is not recycled in an industrial or commercial compost and happens to make its way into traditional recycling streams, the PLA product will contaminate and render the truly recyclable plastic unusable.
How does that process compare to a reusable tea cup or drinking glass? While the professional will have to wash the cup, it is only delivered to the spa once, reducing carbon footprints and waste. Furthermore, it can be reused and, eventually, replaced and recycled. The $4 to $8 investment in a quality, professional-grade tea cup and saucer will last years. Moreover, the tea bag that would normally have been discarded can be composted. If composting at the spa is not an option, professionals can find someone that will pick up compost free of charge. Some landscaping companies look for clean composting material – no dairy or meat scraps – saving waste removal expenses.
CREATING A GREEN SPA
The theory behind the cup of tea can be applied to any other aspect of a spa, including retail, service protocol, construction, and operational expenses. Sometimes, a green decision can come down to a comparison of the sustainability reputation of different product manufacturers.
One of the easiest ways to increase a spa's environmentally friendly factor is to switch out old incandescent light bulbs for LED light bulbs. Incandescent lights emit heat and use more electricity than they should, causing inefficiency. LED light bulbs cost more upfront, but are well worth the investment by providing savings up to 65 percent. This change will result in the spa's electric bill immediately going down. However, do not forget about outdoor lights and holiday lights. Seven percent of all energy consumption in the United States is due to lighting.
In the spa industry, professionals do an enormous amount of laundry. Towels, robes, slippers, and spa wraps are constantly being used and washed during professional treatments such as pedicures, massages, and facials. When it comes to being green, professionals should consider stopping the use of spa wraps because they are redundant; the client is already draped in a set of sheets that are going to be changed anyway. If the spa wrap is removed for facial treatments, the professional will eliminate an entire load of laundry after just five facials. Multiply that over the course of a year and consider the savings on detergent, water, and energy. Furthermore, professionals can remove the towel that is commonly placed under the client's head because it is not really needed and hinders a quality shoulder and neck massage.
While there is no way around having laundry, professionals can inform the staff of the number of towels that are to be used for each service and educate them about why they should reduce the number of linens used during treatments. However, be careful not to preach about environmental practices that might be foreign to them. Communicate the importance of green actions and operations and hopefully they will understand and respect the changes.
There are no limits to being green; it can be done at home, at the spa, while shopping, or while traveling. Living green benefits every person, the Earth, and the spa's bottom line. The best part about going green is that impactful changes do not have to be overwhelming or costly; it can be as easy as making a cup of tea.