Earlier this year, Marion Street Tattoo was officially certified as a green business by the Denver Department of Environmental Health. The only tattoo shop in the city to currently hold the title, the business hopes to set an example for other tattoo shops.
Owner and artist Ryan Willard and says he got the idea to apply for the city's Certifiably Green program after chatting with some other business owners in the area.
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Opened in 2011, the shop is located in a residential home on Marion Street, with 17th Avenue running almost behind the slice of real estate it sits on -- and a community has grown out of the varying stores and restaurants on the block.
"We'd like to turn 17th Avenue into like a 'green belt' -- be one of the first in the state," Willard says.
But there were some challenges, says Nate Stephens, a tattoo apprentice at Marion Street who helped with the process. "The department had never done this with a tattoo shop; so, they based their audit on a dentist's office, because it is kind of similar in terms of, there are certain things we can't recycle. There are things that have to be disposed of in a certain way, just because there's blood-borne pathogens involved."
"In terms of our disposables, we have a recycle bin. We reuse all of our paper -- we're conscious of that," Stephens says. "We can't recycle needles, so we dispose of those a certain way. We use an autoclave for our tubes, so that cuts down on waste."
Certifiably Green is a free program; when a business applies, the city assigns an adviser to visit and help the owner assess water-conservation options, energy-efficiency options, and ways to minimize waste and save money.
Much of the focus at Marion Street Tattoo went into changing the business's daily habits, as well as retrofitting the decades-old building to be more energy-efficient.
"They came in and put new lights in. They also work with the Mile High Youth Corps, and a kid who works with them came out and installed programmable thermostats and weatherstripped all of our doors and windows," says Stephens.
"They've come out to the shop about three times -- the list got bigger and bigger, and they checked everything," he adds. "The last time, we got a new toilet that conserves water."
Willard shares that a big part of becoming sustainable as a tattoo shop is simply a change in mindset. "Fifteen years ago, I wouldn't have even thought about it. When I grew up, it wasn't even like this. I was laughing the other day thinking about how my dad used to have me burn garbage," says Willard.
And now that being environmentally conscious is part of his daily operations, the tattoo artist hopes to connect with others in the industry and inspire a change that, once instituted, can mean business as usual.
"In fairness to tattoo shops themselves, they may not even know that this kind of thing is an option," says Willard. "But the option is there, even for renters. We rent our building, and the credit goes to the Department of Environmental Health for coming in and helping us change. We're really trying to spread the word through this shop, and we're hoping other shops follow suit. Our goal right now is just to tell other businesses that it doesn't take too much to change."
"I think our goal is to just maintain the changes," adds Stephens, like recycling paper and conserving water. "And when you look at it, it's not a huge undertaking. Once you work it into the day-to-day, it's just normal."
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For more information on the Denver Certifiably Green Program, visit the Denver Department of Environmental Health. To see the custom work done by Marion Street Tattoo & Gallery and to learn more about its tattoo artists, visit the shop's website.