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Turning Local Waste into Valuable Products

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Turning Local Waste into Valuable Products

by Tish Levee 

Steffen Kuehr cares deeply about the rolling hills and landscape of Sonoma County. He wants to preserve it, while supporting the local community, and its economy. Working with materials that would usually end up in the local landfill, his company, Sonoma-USA, is creating unique and purposeful products while reducing the environmental impact of the large amount trash we throw away daily. (In the US that’s 289 million tons/year!)

Says Steffen, “It’s time to change the way we look at waste and what we throw away. We have to push for changes on a large scale—changes that have a lasting impact, create awareness, and change our behavior along the way.”

When I first met Steffen a year ago, he was producing textile products using local workers and trying to minimize waste. Because he felt guilty about throwing anything away, he saved all sorts of fabric scraps. As he delved deeper into the waste issue and realized how much else was being thrown away, he began to look at how to use it. “ It turns out we weren’t  the only ones sitting on valuable materials destined for the landfill or taking up warehouse space,” he said.

That’s when he founded Sonoma-USA, a company whose motto is “Divert, Design, Deliver.” Their business model offers local companies an opportunity to divert their over-flow materials and wast products away from the landfill, giving new life to resources that are too precious to be only used once, while also saving disposal costs. Some of the materials which can be re-purposed into new products include outdated promotional banners, billboards, flags, truck tarps, bicycle tubing, climbing ropes and leather scraps that don’t belong in landfill.

Steffen says, “Our first big partnership was with Sonoma Raceway, because we  had become aware of their emphasis on bringing more sustainability to auto racing. When I called Steve Page, the CEO of Sonoma Raceway, to tell him about our new venture, he was immediately very excited, confirming that they had large amounts of old vinyl banners from previous events sitting in the warehouse, waiting to be hauled away. We picked up the first 4 pallets of banners—wiped them down, weighed them in, and calculated that we’d just kept 2,000 pounds—one ton—of vinyl out of the trash.”

Now came the creative and experimental part. “Thanks to our talented and experienced production team we’ve come up with a first selection of products made from banner materials combined with scrap or overstock materials, which we try to use wherever possible. When we buy new materials or accessories like zippers and hardware, our first priority is always to buy American made products and recycled or sustainably made materials to reduce the impact and footprint of our products as much as we can.”

Steffen is passionate not just about the environmental impact of his business but also its social impact; he’s committed to sustainable business practices that care about stake holders and not just the share holders. That’s why Sonoma-USA is a registered Benefit Corporation and is working on obtaining their B Corp certification. All their products are “Made Local” in their production facility on Santa Rosa Avenue. They also give a percentage of each sale to local non-profits.

Sonoma-USA is launching a KickStarter campaign with the intention of raising money to take this operation to a large scale, to find the materials that are hidden away in warehouses across the county, and to hire local talent to process the materials into new products and market them.

As Steffen says, “We have some ambitious goals to create a new type of business, changing the way we look at waste and how we use materials. We have the production experience and facilities as well as many interested businesses ready to send material our way. We need you to be part of it: spread the word, support our cause, and feel good using products that look good and do good for the world.” An initial selection of these products will be available for purchase through their Kickstarter campaign; see more details at