Eileen from Urban Green Lab sat down with two-thirds of Eternal Returns, Haleigh Doyle and Keegan Fioravanti (Taylor Patterson not interviewed), to hear about how their new business is on a mission to provide sustainable waste management in the South.
What is Eternal Returns?
H: We provide sustainable waste management options to businesses in Nashville and surrounding areas, and we upcycle wood and glass products. Our aim is to help Tennessee grow as an environmentally conscious community, and we only have plans to grow our business as well.
Were you always interested in “being green”?
K: For me, It was really just a part of life. I grew up in Seattle and Oregon in a very eco-friendly household. Some of my earliest memories were going to recycling center and separating materials with my Grandpa. I also grew up vegetarian and working in our garden- it was all very normal. Then I moved to Nashville in 2012, and there wasn’t much of that here. I started working at Whole Foods to be around more of the “green” community in Nashville.
H: My story is the exact opposite! I did not grow up in a green home at all, not that we weren’t nature lovers. We loved to hike and be outside, but my family didn’t know much about recycling and composting. My first real introduction to that world was through my time in Boone, NC. I went to a very eco-friendly school, but that wasn’t the right environment for me. So, I returned to Nashville in 2013 and started working at Whole Foods in Cool Springs. That was definitely the place that motivated my passion for sustainability in a city. My grandparents were hardcore farmers with holistic systems of composting and fertilizing, but they just didn’t understand how to recycle.
Keegan, Haleigh, and their 3rd member Taylor met at Whole Foods- Cool Springs through the Zero Waste Program. This is an employee-led program to facilitate sustainable waste management at Whole Foods stores.
K: I will say, Whole Foods does way more than most corporations for actively trying to push for sustainable waste management, like through their Zero Waste Program, but it’s got to come from the individual. Since it’s employee-run, if there aren’t proactive employees to keep the program afloat, stuff just doesn’t get recycled properly.
So even if an eco-friendly company like Whole Foods has a green mission, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all employees know how or want to carry it out?
K: Yes. We need an educational service to explain how to do this simple necessary thing that other parts of the country and world have been doing from a young age. It’s not that people don’t want to recycle, they just don’t know how and/or don’t want to go out of their way to do the right thing.
H: I post cute little signs with facts to get people to recycle. You have to put things into perspective- encouraging someone to think about the harm of landfills will make them less likely to waste so much. If there’s not someone to educate people, then any green program will fail.
That’s a great idea. When I see someone put an easily recyclable item in the landfill pin, I have an inner dilemma. What do you do?
K: I’m not scared of telling people that they are throwing something in the wrong bin. You just have to be nice about it.
That’s inspiring. Are there any other educational services you guys are provided to spread the word about being green?
H: I’m doing a 30- day Blog Challenge to green your home as part of indie-business network. I’m excited to share it with others soon. It’s easy and applicable for anyone.
So, being the leaders behind the Zero-Waste Program at your Whole Foods spurred the official formation of Eternal Returns?
K: Yes, that and 2 albums: North Lane’s “Singularity” and Architects’ “Lost Forever, Lost Together” Those albums talk about getting up and doing what you want to do. Honestly, I was getting tired of not having meaning and finally pushed it all together. I want to be a part of the generation that made a change.
Haleigh, Keegan, and Taylor’s first job was picking up glass at Whole Foods in Cool Springs. That was 6 months ago. Now, the do pick-ups for 10 businesses, including Whole Foods Green Hills and the Juice Barn and several local farms like Green Door Gourmet and Healthy Flavors.
Have you done any studies to show how much waste you have kept from landfills?
B: One farm we’ve been working with, wasting 6000 lbs. month, now we compost on their land and do their recycling, and now only 1200-1500 lbs! And that’s just the beginning of it!
Eternal Returns has 2 components: recycling pick-up and composting services, and working with reclaimed materials, namely upcycling wood from pallets and old barns.
How would you like to see Eternal Returns grow in your 2 focus areas of recycling/compost services and reclaimed materials?
K: We aspire to bring our recycling/compost services all over Middle TN doing both residential and commercial pick-ups. We hope to eventually grow as much into the South as possible, because this part of the country has the lowest recycling activity. The percentage of what we recycle here is ridiculously tiny.
The other aspect of our work deals with reclaimed materials. This has morphed into something Taylor and I originally talked about- upcycled furniture. We first started picking up pallets, and now we tear down barns and can reuse the material as capital. We want to be that hub for finding a variety of useful materials, i.e. barn wood, pallet wood, etc. We envision a giant warehouse of materials for all sorts of people to use… artists, teachers, builders who wants to use a recycled material instead of going to department stores; this sort of access really isn’t available yet. We could be the Home Depot and Walmart of recycled, sustainable materials!
H: Yes! We would also offer “sustainable development packages” in which we would contract out local/non-local options of renewable, sustainable waste to make your entire business home/sustainable and linking people with resources to find recycled carpet, hardware, natural paints, etc.
What is the biggest challenge Eternal Returns has encountered?
K: TN has such strict codes as to how waste needs to be fenced in so surrounding areas can’t see it. So it takes a while to get people to invest into it. That’s why we offer the first week free so that people see how much they are actually going to be recycling and composting. It’s hard to imagine when you have always just been throwing it away.
H: Another obstacle is getting people committed. It’s always a nice idea. For us, it was cool dream for a little while until we took it seriously. It’s hard to get people to take it seriously. Honestly, whenever positive change is afoot, lack of education always the limiting factor- no matter if you’re trying to recycle or fight racism. It’s easy to think you are right if you don’t know any other options. We hope to encourage people to get over the “ignorance is bliss” mindset.
Thanks to Haleigh and Keegan for taking the time to tell their story, and thanks to Eternal Returns for being part of a long-term sustainable waste solution for middle Tennessee. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If you are interested in their sustainable options, visit their website. Be sure to come to our Engage Green workshop on December 2. Haleigh will be teaching us to make DIY candles! More information to come!