Sea Change – a waste reduction conference in Alberta

I was thrilled to learn about the RCA Conference when Briana and Isabelle, our founders reached out to me, asking if I was interested in participating and representing our grassroots organisation, Plastic-Free YYC. It was a relatively easy decision to accept, having been promised it would be a great learning and networking opportunity and of course, a lot of fun. This year the conference was held at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, the perfect location to be inspired by nature and roll out dialogue in all things – environment and sustainability. 

The Recycling Council of Alberta, or the RCA, is an organisation that strives to promote and facilitate waste reduction, recycling, and resource conservation in Alberta. Their vision is to create a pathway to a zero waste Alberta. The RCA conference brings together professionals from industry, academia, nonprofits and the government sector from Canada and abroad to explore topics such as EPR, the Circular Economy and Fast Fashion. Overall, I was very impressed by the program and the content of the conference. There was a fantastic roster of distinguished speakers,  ample opportunity to network, great food and catering (all served in a low-waste fashion, of course). 

Collectively, I attended around 10 sessions and had numerous though provoking conversations with the other attendees. In an effort to share my experience with the rest of the team at Plastic-Free YYC and you, this blog was born. I will summarize my Top 3 Topics of Learning and Top 5 Social Enterprises that I believe are making tremendous impact on sustainable waste management.

Top 5 Social Enterprises

  1. Plastic Bank 
  • Origin: Vancouver, British Columbia 
  • Insta: @plasticbank
  • Twitter: PlasticBank
  • Website: plasticbank.com

This organisation is based in Vancouver, British Columbia and their work aims to stop plastic pollution, while helping lift people out of poverty. The Plastic Bank operates in areas which are really affected by plastic pollution, such as Bali, Haiti, and the Philippines. Locals there can collect plastic, bring them to the Plastic Bank where they can exchange it for Social Plastic, which they can then use to buy amenities such as healthcare, school tuition, fuel for cooking and more. Their objective is to have one billion people actively involved in cleaning our environment and to give a chance for people to transcend out of poverty. 

1. Leftovers Calgary

  • Origin: Calgary, Alberta
  • Insta: @leftoversfoundation
  • Twitter: LeftoversYYC
  • Website: rescuefood.ca

Did you know approximately 60% of food produced and imported into Canada goes to landfills? When a third of the world’s population is experiencing malnourishment, this is devastating news. Last year, Leftovers Calgary collaborated with over 50 vendors to rescue over 320,000 lbs of food and redirect to those in need. Food that cannot be donated for donations is given to farmers to feed their animals. Food that isn’t used for animals is composted. Only a small percentage goes to landfill. Recently, Leftovers Calgary expanded operations to include Fresh Routes which is a mobile grocery store which reaches Calgarians who might be struggling or otherwise face barriers to getting fresh food. 

2.Global Ghost Gear Initiative: 

  • Origin:  White Rock, British Columbia 
  • Twitter: GGGInitiative 
  • Website: ghostgear.org  

Launched in September 2015 and founded on the best available science and technology, the GGGI is the first global collective impact alliance dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost fishing gear at a global scale. Every year, fishing gear twice the weight of the Empire State building is lost in the oceans and GGGI organizes to retrieve those materials to protect marine ecosystems. Furthermore, they work with local and federal governments in creating policies that will strengthen the protection of oceans. 

3.Earth Group 

  • Origin: Edmonton, Alberta 
  • Insta: theearthgroup
  • Twitter: TheEarthGroup
  • Website: earthgroup.org

Get your next coffee product from Earth Group! (Not to be mistaken for Good Earth), this Edmonton company sells fair trade tea, coffee and water and then donates 100% of all proceeds to providing food, water, and education to children globally. They have so far provided 4 million school meals to children globally. 

4.Loop 

  • Origin: United States
  • Insta: loopstore_us
  • Twitter: LoopStore_US
  • Website: loopstore.com 

The keynote presentation by Anthony Rossi was arguably the highlight of the conference. Terracycle has expanded its business to Loop Store which is transitioning  from the disposable supply chain to a durable one. They are bringing the concept of the glass milk bottle back. In the past, one milk bottle would be used dozens of times, but now a carton could be used once before being disposed into the trash. Loop enables reusability of its products hundreds of times, and when the product is at end-of-life, it goes back into the supply chain.

Top 3 Topics of Learning

One of the keynote speakers opened her presentation saying, “It’s a poor day if you can’t learn three things new things each day.” I certainly learned more than three things a day during the conference, but the standout ideas for me were Extended Producer Responsibility, Consumerism and Behavior Change and Circular Economy.

1.Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) 

What is EPR and why is it important? The Canadian Stewardship Services Alliance describes the comprehensive obligation that Canadian businesses have to reduce the environmental impact of their products and packaging. Under the EPR model of cradle-to-grave product management, a producer’s responsibility spans the entire product management lifecycle, because that responsibility is extended to the post-consumer phase. This obligation encompasses waste reduction, recovery, recycling and reuse, and in many cases businesses are solely and fully responsible for designing, operating and financing the associated diversion program. EPR requires total producer responsibility, physical and financial, for products and packaging supplied into the marketplace. It shifts responsibility upstream, away from municipalities and regional waste authorities to the companies that put the products (along with their packaging and marketing material) into the marketplace. 

EPR is challenging producers to change their packaging and materials standards, either by reducing their packaging or innovating materials to lessen their impact on the environment. An example is developing plastic made of renewable plastic energies. Producers can also choose to collect their products at end-of-life and recycled materials back into their supply chain. It is imperative that producers know the end fate of materials and need to pay some cost if they refuse. Businesses are important actors and need to adopt a better economic posture. Despite Alberta being the most consumerist province in Canada, we are the only province that does not have an EPR policy. We can certainly look to other jurisdictions in Canada and explore what features of EPR would work here. 

2.Consumerism and Behaviour Change

Rueben Anderson, Behavior Change and Sustainable Systems consultant, has worked for the City of Vancouver and oversaw improvements to the city’s recycling program that increased recycling in some areas to 250%. When programs fail or don’t reach intended targets, the fault often falls on the system. So what causes behavior change? 

Education -> New Values -> think -> choose -> act. A system that works has all the required infrastructure in place and simple instructions to manufacture automatic behavior. A successful system is compassion and does not ask users to work or think harder, but triggers automatic actions from users. 

Governments that avoid implementing certain environmental programs, stating that they do not want to disrupt businesses are just making an excuse. It is a government body’s responsibility to set the demands and baseline for environmental protection, then create a system that businesses and consumers can follow relatively easily.

3.Circular Economy: Barriers for Plastic

Did you know approximately 9% of plastic in Canada is recycled and the remainder 91% goes to landfills, which means the entire cycle will just repeat itself, first with extraction and then production. We have a systemic problem which calls for a systemic solution. In our current economy, emphasis has been on recycling. Truthfully, in order to have real and meaningful change, our focus should be on reduction and reuse. A plastic circular economy is powered by renewable energy and zero waste. There are two nutrients to a circular economy: technical and biological. Technical nutrients are products and packaging are reused, or the constituent materials are recovered for their reintroduction into manufacturing, in a manner that displaces raw materials. Biological nutrients are materials in products and packaging are consumed by biological systems, with no adverse impact to those systems.There would be a huge economic benefit to a circular economy. Eunomia Research & Consulting Inc. conducted study on recycling and noted for every $1.2 million tonnes our province recycled, we would generate an estimated $700 million for our economy through the creation of jobs and services.The argument that recycling would be a burden on our economy is simply false. 

~ Trecia Kilback, Campaign Lead, ReConstruct Calgary

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plasticfreeb

I'm a passionate environmentalist at heart. Striving to create a difference in my community and in my home to make the world just a little bit better.