Green Mary wants you to check out her dishes. After all, they’re from a library.
The offerings at Green Mary’s Eco-wares Library — a collection of ceramic plates, cups, mugs, bowls, wine glasses, silverware and table linens for up to 750 people — can be “checked out” and returned like library books, for a small fee.
The Eco-wares Library occupies two-fifths of Robin Latham’s Sebastopol garage. Latham, perhaps the only person in the world to hold the title “Eco-wares Librarian,” organizes and runs the library for Sebastopol resident Mary Munat, who’s known around town as Green Mary. Munat’s company, Green Mary, offers the eventware as part of its waste-diversion services for events.
The library isn’t an official nonprofit, but it’s not a for-profit venture either. Although Green Mary is a for-profit company, Latham and Munat aim to break even with the library.
“It’s a service for the community to be as green as possible,” Munat said.
Their goal is to help local organizations and residents, who are trying to be environmentally responsible, avoid the cavalcade of trash that results from using disposable items for large events or the high rental fees that some event rental companies charge for real tableware.
Local event companies charge between 75 cents to $4 per plate, 35 cents to 70 cents per piece of silverware, and 70 cents to $2.25 per wine glass. At an event for 200 people, the dinner plates alone could cost $200.
Those who use the library — organizations holding charity events or individuals hosting a wedding or party — pay a flat fee for everything (dishes, flatware, glasses, tablecloths), starting at $75, depending on the number of items.
The only catch? Customers must wash and sterilize everything before returning it, using an industrial dishwasher. Or people can wash the dishes themselves, as long as they follow strict guidelines using bleach, grapefruit seed extract or another sterilizer. The fee goes up if Green Mary handles the cleaning or delivers and picks up the items. Most library patrons/ customers just meet Latham at her garage to select their tableware.
Green Mary has provided tableware for large events like the Sonoma County Democratic Party Crab Feed Fundraiser, Sonoma County Human Race Pancake Breakfast and the Sebastopol Fire Department’s recent Zero Waste Pancake Breakfast.
Waste diversion isn’t just a feel-good, go-green campaign. California Assembly Bill 939, the California Integrated Waste Management Act, requires cities and counties to divert 50% of their solid waste each year. And in 2018, Sebastopol became the first city in Sonoma County to adopt a resolution requiring zero waste by 2030.
Munat, who received an environmental award at this year’s Peacetown Celebration, founded Green Mary in the early 2000s after hearing activist Julia Butterfly Hill (known for living in a redwood tree for 738 days) criticize the amount of waste generated at the Health & Harmony Music & Arts Festival, where Munat was the volunteer coordinator. Her company, Green Mary, now offers its greening services at more than 250 events each year.
Latham said she doesn’t consider the library a competitor to rental companies.
“We don’t care if people rent from caterers,” she said. “We just want to stop people from throwing stuff away and going back to plastic.”
If you’re a stickler for coordinated china, you’ll probably want to stick with event rentals because the Eco-wares Library offers a mismatched collection, originally built from donations and items purchased at the Salvation Army, Goodwill and other thrift stores.
Latham said most people think the library’s collection of mismatched dishware is “kind of funky chic.”
Latham’s daughter, Erin Latham-Ponneck, who lives in Santa Rosa, said she and her husband used the service for their son’s fundraising holiday party at Reach Charter School in Sebastopol.
“Who notices that the person at the next table has a different plate?” she said.
A few pieces of silverware usually go missing, but Green Mary doesn’t charge for those.
“Occasionally someone loses something big, but people are pretty reliable about it because they have the same zero waste goals we do,” Latham said.
And even broken or chipped dishes can have an extended life — as art.
“I’m ready to have a mosaic-making party,” Latham said. “It might generate some great Green Mary-inspired art.”
For more information, visit greenmary.com.