Businesses join waste-reduction movement
HAMILTON — Think about how much garbage your house produces each week. Then do the same for your workplace.
Now picture a quarter-full grocery bag of garbage weighing less than two small eggs. That’s how much trash The Nook Café produced one week in January — and according to owner Suad Abukamla, that was more than usual.
“Yesterday was 99 grams,” she said, noting she weighs the garbage each week and audits the recycling and compost to make sure there’s no contamination. “In the last two months we didn’t reach 180 grams (of garbage) … I proudly can say we’re 99 per cent waste-free.”
Abukamla opened the Bold Street café in November; partially as a distraction from her graduate studies in public policy, and partly to make a point about what is possible. The only garbage can in the place is in the washroom, for menstrual products.
She decorated the bright café with second-hand items, chose furniture that can be reused or recycled, and sourced all of her takeout containers and cutlery to be fully compostable or, in rare cases, recyclable. Patrons who live or work nearby are encouraged to bring their own mugs, and get 25 cents off their coffee if they do. If they forget, they can borrow a ceramic mug and bring it back later.
“I am studying water issues and care about the environment,” said Abukamla, 39, who pays her employees Hamilton’s living wage, $15.85 per hour, and allows community groups to use the café for free after-hours. “Business, environment, social justice: Those are the objectives of the café. It’s not just for profit, it’s a social hub.”
The Mustard Seed Co-op, a social hub in its own right, is also working to reduce waste on several fronts. Its local-food-focused grocery store on York Boulevard allows customers to bring their own containers and bags for bulk products and produce, offers discounts on older fruits and vegetables, composts as much as possible and reuses all boxes and scrap paper.
Operations team lead Stacey Allen-Cillis explained that the co-op takes direction from its members, who are typically socially-conscious people who enjoy deciding how much of certain products they would like to buy. The bulk program includes coffee, spices, snacks, grains, household products and honey, with co-op members able to make special orders for large quantities. It may be no surprise that oats are one of the biggest sellers.
“I think our members make a lot of granola,” she said, somewhat wryly.
All patrons, whether or not they are members, get 25 cents off for each container they bring in for bulk shopping. Containers are weighed when customers arrive and then weighed again after they’ve been filled. It’s not a money-maker, due to product spillage and the time required to restock the bins, but the option to reduce waste is important to many of the co-op’s members, says Allen-Cillis.
“Offering bulk is part of keeping our values in line (and) reducing our waste-producing carbon footprint,” she told The Spec from her office, which has a window view to the store’s bulk section. “Our goal is to bring in the availability of purchasing a Mason jar on-site if you don’t bring your own, so we can ultimately eliminate any sort of packaging in that area.”
The co-op also charges the price of a small coffee for anyone who brings their own mug, no matter the size.
Allowing customers to provide their own containers is gaining traction among major players, as well. Bulk Barn, which has nine stores in the Hamilton-Burlington area, began allowing reused containers at its stores nationwide in 2017.
President and CEO Jason Ofield, who took over the role from his father in January, said it took him years to convince his parents to implement the program. After some time in development, the first pilot project was in Toronto’s Liberty Village in September 2016.
The area is densely populated by condo-dwelling millennials, which Ofield, 34, thinks contributed to the immediate success of the program.
“I believe our generation is more cognizant of the challenges facing society today,” he said, noting the company went forward with the program because it had an opportunity to be socially responsible, not because there’s a particularly strong business case.
The money Bulk Barn saves on bags is balanced out by what it had to spend on designing the program and training staff, he said. “The analysis we’ve done (shows) it’s a wash.”
Some other chains are also starting to move toward waste reduction. A&W uses reusable french-fry baskets and mugs for customers who eat in-store, and McDonald’s recently announced plans to recycle food packaging in all of its restaurants worldwide by 2025. Here in Ontario, the Beer Store has long been a leader in waste diversion. All of its products come in recyclable packaging, and it boasts a 96 per cent recovery rate on beer bottles thanks to its deposit return program.
For those businesses that believe eliminating garbage would be impossible, the Nook’s Abukamla says the biggest hurdle is to develop a new attitude.
“They have to believe in the idea,” she said. “Believe it, and it’s very easy to apply.”
The next step is getting familiar with local recycling and composting systems, then only buying products and packaging that can go into one of those bins.
“If they choose their materials carefully, it will make it easy for them.”
For families who’d like to cut down on waste, Bea Johnson, author of “Zero Waste Home,” suggests following her “Five R’s” in order.
1. Refuse what we do not need
In our society, we are given free stuff on a regular basis: Plastic bags, samples, freebies, party favours, junk mail, etc. If we refuse them on the spot, we do not need to deal with them later.
2. Reduce what we need
We questioned the true need and use of our possessions and, over time, became minimalists. We even made money in the process by selling some of the items that we let go.
3. Reuse by swapping disposables for reusables and buying second-hand
For every disposable out there, a reusable alternative exists. We use handkerchiefs, refillable bottles, cloth napkins, rags, and a shopping kit (including totes, cloth bags and jars).
4. Recycle what we cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse
It takes a lot of energy and resource to recycle something, so we now only think of it as a last resort before landfill. We choose glass, metal, or cardboard (and) avoid plastic.
I even compost dryer lint, hair, and nails! We’ve made it easy and automatic for the whole family to participate by turning our old under-counter trash can into one large compost receptacle.
Suad Abukamla, owner of the Nook Cafe on Bold Street serves a customer. The cafe is all about aiming for a 'zero waste'. There are only compost and recycling containers in the shop and all of their locally sourced suppliers are 'green' and support this philosophy.