01 / June



Reduce, Reuse, Rethink!


(Over the past year, we’ve been experimenting with “Social Change in a Mason Jar” as a new slogan for Three Stone Hearth. The more we work with it, the more it seems to fit. Here is the first of an ongoing series of articles exploring what’s behind that slogan.)


We tend to think of recycling as an indisputable ecological benefit, but we have to start thinking about how to do better. Reuse is generally a far more sustainable alternative, and our mason jar packaging here at Three Stone Hearth, and the cycle of return and reuse that has been a cornerstone of our business model since day one, is a stellar example.


A May 24th article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “S.F.’s bins runneth over with special delivery trash,” highlights the limitations of recycling programs to keep up with mountains of packaging being generated by internet and other home delivery shopping, particularly food delivery.


Citing these increases in packaging, and the labor to sort through what is and is not actually recyclable, Recology, the city’s recycling contractor, has applied for a 14% rate increase to go into effect in July, which has been approved by Public Works, pending citizen comment and possible appeal.


When online shopping was primarily hard goods that shipped in boxes, the bulk of packaging was recyclable paper and cardboard. But nowadays, delivered food items make up more and more of the waste stream, and they often come individually packed in plastic and styrofoam. While San Francisco’s progressive styrofoam ban and Zero Waste program are admirable, the local recycling industry says it just can’t keep up and meet those goals.


For those of you who are new to our business, we pack the vast majority of our food in returnable, reusable mason jars, which we charge a deposit on. When people come to our kitchen to pick up their orders, they return their jars for credit (unless they’re using them at home -- another benefit). They also bring their own bags, boxes or coolers to take their food home, or help themselves to the empty boxes we save for that purpose.


We also deliver in San Francisco, Marin and the East Bay. Unlike most other home food delivery services, the packing material we use, while not always made of the most ecological materials, is all reusable, and we collect it with our delivery customers’ jars week to week.


All those jars (thousands of them) and delivery materials, when returned to us clean, are carefully inspected, sterilized and put back in circulation. The mason jar lids and any rusty or damaged rings get recycled. How many times does a jar get used before it chips, or a cooler before it breaks down? Dozens? More?


Our business is built around the idea that reuse is a more sustainable alternative to recycling whenever possible. In addition to the offerings we produce at our kitchen, we also carry products from other vendors, and have convinced many local artisanal producers to pack their offerings in mason jars that can be included in our cycle of reuse (sometimes it’s a dealbreaker for us). We have built an extensive infrastructure (labor, equipment, storage space, online shopping features and in our bookkeeping systems) to accommodate this core aspect of our business.


The landscape of competition around healthier, high-quality foods has changed quite a bit since we started in 2006. Besides the integrity of our sourcing and traditional food preparation techniques, one thing that sets us apart is our packaging. Biodegradable plates and cups are all well and good, and so is the convenience of perfectly measured ingredients at your door ready to cook fresh. In the long run, though, we’ll have to do better.


Sounds like Social Change in a Mason Jar!

Click here to see the article in the Chronicle.