Danville Express

Newsfront - December 7, 2007

Yogurt Shack listens to young 'green' advocate

Biodegradable cup option is small start to solving big problem

by Natalie O'Neill

"Think big, start small."

Twelve-year-old Joshua Kanel may as well have written the motto. It's how he lives his life.

The Danville sixth-grader is combating environmental destruction one business at a time. And he's starting at home.

"I think I can change the world and I'm starting with my neighborhood," he said this week.

Last spring, Joshua was celebrating a Greenbrook Elementary speech contest victory at Danville's owner-operated Yogurt Shack. His speech was on simple ways to "go green" and he had earth on the mind when he noticed the yogurt was served in plastic foam cups.

He had just learned the planet can't reuse foam cups, that they sit in landfills and take up space. And he decided to do something about it.

"At first I was going to boycott it, and then I decided that wouldn't help," he said.

So he wrote a letter to the owner, asking him to try out recyclable yogurt cups.

Yogurt Shack owner Ron Coccimiglio got the letter and called him back right away.

"He's really good at getting people to listen," his mom Julie Kanel explained.

After a few weeks, Yogurt Shack began offering sugar cane-based recyclable cups in addition to the plastic foam. The sugar cane breaks down easily.

"We need more people utilizing recyclable products," Coccimiglio said.

He explained the foam is necessary insulation to keep the frozen yogurt from melting on warm days. But he agrees that people should have an environmentally-conscious option at his shop.

"We wanted to give customers a choice," he said.

The recyclable cups cost about twice as much as the plastic foam because there's not a high demand for them. As more people use them, the cost will go down and businesses will more likely purchase recyclable material.

First, people have to care. Then businesses will start going green, Coccimiglio explained.

"It's a small snowball rolling down the hill," he said, adding he hopes the trend gains momentum.

Plastic foam is not biodegradable and can take over 300 years to be broken down. The material is almost never recycled because it's an expensive process.

The technical term for the material is polystyrene thermal insulation, although most people call it Styrofoam, a trademark brand.

For now, Yogurt Shack absorbs the cost of the sugar-cane based cups, which calculates out to be about a penny price increase per cup.

"We eat the cost. We wanted to give people a chance to save the environment," Coccimiglio said.

Businesses can make small changes to help avoid climate disruption, loss of biodiversity, ozone disruption, toxic pollutants - and ultimately global warming.

Buying goods locally saves fuel from transporting products long distances - which is easier on the ozone.

Getting an energy audit eliminates some of the same problems. Audits offer businesses often-free consultations about how to reduce energy usage, help the earth and save money.

Better insulation, repairing worn out air conditioners or leaky faucets along with investing in timed light switches can save businesses money in the long run.

And many offices have already switched to electronic documents as opposed to using paper.

At Danville businesses, it's the little things, advocates say. Going green could mean using compost as opposed to trash, ordering produce from East Bay farmers, or orchestrating bike-to-work days.

Yogurt Shack owners have one location in Davis - an environmentally conscious college town - and had been researching biodegradable cups. Joshua just gave them an extra push.

"I was really surprised and proud of myself," said Joshua, who now attends Charlotte Wood Middle School.

Danville Weekly would like to hear about local businesses that are going green. Contact us at 837-8300 or e-mail editor@danvilleweekly.com. Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com


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