Busi­nesses join waste-re­duc­tion move­ment

Waterloo Region Record - - Business | Life News .ca - SAIRA PEESKER

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.

5. Rot

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.

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