When Lucy Cullen discovered a compost bin filled with unopened, unexpired plastic yogurt containers at the restaurant where she worked, she didn’t just shake her head and walk away like everyone else. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I emptied each one and sorted them properly.”
Cullen (BA 2015 VIC) – recently named one of Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 – has been frustrated by this kind of wastefulness since she started working in restaurants at 17. “It’s often just accepted as an unfortunate side of the business,” she says. Believing there was a better way, in 2016 she co-founded Terus, a Toronto-based business that aims to reduce waste and improve profitability in the hospitality sector.
Cullen says she became interested in working in sustainability during trips to Ecuador and Australia, as part of the environmental studies program at U of T. “Both trips gave me a wake-up call about the importance of protecting our planet. It’s one thing to read about it, and another to hear the stories from a guide who lives in the Amazon and experiences the realities every day,” she says. “I know that conserving land and biodiversity in the Amazon doesn’t necessarily directly reflect on the work that I do with restaurants, but it helped me realize I wanted to do what I could to propel positive environmental change.”
For Terus’s first client, a 25-seat restaurant, Cullen’s team diverted 248 pounds of waste from landfill and increased profits by nearly $11,000 annually. Her strategy? Making and selling mimosas from fresh fruit (oranges and grapefruit) that used to be thrown out after the zest was taken off to garnish cocktails.
“There’s still lots to be done. But every time I speak to an industry professional and hear their challenges regarding waste, it makes me motivated and determined to fix the problem.”