Feature photo: Front entrance of Sans Paquet, a women-owned, sustainable living shop located in Downtown Lafayette. Photo by Claire Lyon.
While recent hurricane activity coupled with COVID-19 may be the cause of increased waste in Acadiana, one local business and organization continues to encourage sustainability efforts in the area.
Currently, education and outreach services for waste in Acadiana include programs such as “Keep Louisiana Beautiful,” and the recent “Feet On The Street” campaign. For some local businesses, making an impact on the community sometimes works best when starting on a smaller scale.
According to Brandi Comeaux and Nicole Hauerwas, owners of Sans Paquet in Downtown Lafayette, the mission of their business journey was to make it easier for people to live the “zero waste” lifestyle in Acadiana.
“Zero waste” can be defined as: the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health, according to Zero Waste International Alliance.
Sans Paquet, translating to “no packaging” in French, targets “simple sustainable shopping” in Acadiana, offering most of their products in bulk and encouraging the use of reusable containers. Opening roughly a week before the initial announcement of the pandemic and state-issued lockdown, Brandi Comeaux and Hauerwas said navigating their business during COVID-19 required them to rethink their approach to sustainability.
“We were forced to have decisions like our business model is you bring your container and fill it up, but if we’re in quarantine and you’re ordering stuff from us online, what do we put it in to give you?,” Hauerwas said. “It was kind of ironic that one week in [to opening the business] we were talking [about] how to package our stuff and our name [Sans Paquet] literally means ‘package free’,” Hauerwas said.
With refillable and bulk options for products ranging from household to personal use, Sans Paquet reflects on a key issue of reducing waste, which Comeaux said is the belief that “recycling is going to make everything okay.”
A part-time volunteer with Downtown Lafayette’s Deuxiѐme Vie Creative, a local “creative reuse center” that focuses on upcycled art and materials, Comeaux said that complacency is one of the biggest hurdles to face as a business in terms of introducing a reduced waste mindset, locally.
“[Deuxiѐme Vie Creative] is always trying to take things that would’ve been trash and make them into art materials, and that’s great, but that doesn’t mean keep making more trash,” Comeaux said. “Everybody wants to make less.”
For Catherine Comeaux, co-founder and member of local nonprofit organization “No Waste Lafayette,” she said she thinks the average citizen is not thinking of reduced waste, but recognizing consumption habits can be the first step.
The idea of the organization, Catherine Comeaux said, originated around 2016 when she and another woman, both having children in the Lafayette Parish School System (LPSS), asked why schools didn’t have recycling. Catherine also said she latched onto the concept of “zero waste” in the community when she realized that recycling “wasn’t the answer to our waste problem.”
Working part time for the city’s recycling office, Catherine Comeaux said that seeing how city government works and operates with waste in the community has been “eye-opening.”
Despite a national increase in waste, Louisiana alone recorded almost 38.7 tons of landfill waste per person in 2019, according to a statistic sourced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For the city of Lafayette, the total waste landfill reached 65,412 tons, according to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) 2018 Annual Recycling Report.
Looking at the recycling and total waste numbers in Lafayette, however, Catherine Comeaux said the main focus should be quality.
“Even if Lafayette would recycle less, it would be a win if we recycled better quality items,” Catherine Comeaux said, “Only empty, clean, dry, flattened cardboard, paper, metal cans, plastic bottles [and] jugs.”
Starting locally in areas like Acadiana, Catherine Comeaux also mentioned the importance of businesses like Sans Paquet, and talking to people in the community about things like refill and reuse options. She also cited the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as a community example for sustainability efforts, such as the university’s recent mission to provide “zero waste game day.”
“Everybody’s who’s in the [Department of Environmental Quality] for the city would probably love to see some sort of zero waste plan or zero waste goal, but I don’t think they are in the position to be the ones to do it or even me [as] part-time,” Catherine Comeaux said, “I think if we could get together… and cite the university as an example, I think we could start at least the conversation and getting it out there in people’s minds.”
The owners of Sans Paquet, as well as Catherine Comeaux, said they believe starting small and simple is better than nothing. According to Brandi Comeaux, she encourages using what you have, buying things that will last, refilling as much as possible and repurposing items.
“You don’t have to do everything, just one thing,” Hauerwas said, “Even if you mess it up half the time, doing that one thing half the time is still a difference and it still means something and it still counts.”
Aside from encouraging local efforts, Catherine Comeaux said that being in a community and area of the nation with a high rate of poverty is a challenge for Acadiana, and can make the process intimidating.
Catherine Comeaux also said that trying to totally eliminate packaging from your life is going to likely require bigger policy changes, such as the recently proposed “Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020.”
For Hauerwas, those challenges are a “pro and con” of Cajun culture.
“We’ve been able to preserve parts of our culture, we’ve been able to preserve language [and] food,” Hauerwas said. “We have this unique thing here and we know how special it is but sometimes…we don’t have reason to look outside of that a lot.”
Moving forward, Hauerwas and Comeaux of Sans Paquet said they would like to see more opportunities such as citywide composting, recycling opportunities for apartment complexes and sustainable options with Festival International.
“Lafayette has a history of doing things… where we make something special for ourselves,” Hauerwas said, “It’s easy to hate on Lafayette, but some things we do get really right, I think that that could be one of those things.”
Overall, Brandi Comeaux said the strength of Acadiana is in its strong sense of community, something she said she believes can work in favor of reducing waste in the area.
“I think that we all love Acadiana and Louisiana so much that it is important to remember to be stewards for our ecosystem here, and I think that refilling and reusables is one way to do it,” Brandi Comeaux said.