A few years ago, Valérie Leloup read a book called Zero Waste Home, about a family that reduced waste to one jar per year, usually by not buying useless materials in the first place.

“It’s a proposal for a completely different lifestyle that is less focused on material possessions, on things, on things,” she said.

It impressed her so much that she brought these ideas into her life, but there was an important obstacle: “There was no supermarket where you could buy everything package-free.”

Leloup and her business partner, Sia Veeramani, opened NOW Grocery in Wellington Street West in 2017 and added a second location on Main Street in October.

It is a simple concept: customers bring their own packaging for almost everything. Toothpaste, washing-up liquid, vegetables, flour, oil and the rest. The only containers supplied by the store are glass bottles and jars for milk, yogurt and some preserved products, and customers pay a deposit and return the empty packages.

“Checkout takes a little longer than at Loblaws, which is all about scanning,” Leloup said. NU Grocery has a number of phases before checkout.

Customers first stop at a weighing station. They weigh every container that they have brought and write a code number on the lid. (There is a special pen that writes on glass and metal.)



Then they start filling containers – bulk dry food such as flour and rice from trays, fruits and vegetables from table tops, oil from a shiny metal tank.

Along the wall there are more than a dozen faucets with red handles, where customers fill cleaning products (including vinegar) from bulk containers.

Off to the money. The cashier weighs the container and enters the code at the top. “The system automatically deducts the weight of the container. You don’t have to get a calculator or something, “she said.

One catch: there is no meat. This was initially because the store did not have room for the extensive cooling that meat requires. Today Leloup says she would not sell meat even if she had the space; she is convinced that we must switch to a plant-based diet, again due to the pressure of the environment.

NU Grocery is the only zero-waste supermarket company in Ottawa. But in the coming months there is a good chance that your federal, provincial and municipal authorities will set new rules to limit plastic packaging, especially single-use packaging.

NU Grocery is aware of the impact on the environment and has chosen not to offer disposable packaging.

Some governments have already started banning packaging: Prince Edward Island banned shopping bags in July and Nova Scotia will follow this year. British Columbia intends to comply with a similar ban. As well as Newfoundland and Quebec.

On the final target list for many: plastic shopping bags; the lightweight bags in product departments at supermarkets; plastic cups for soft drinks, plates, cutlery; water bottles and some soda bottles; coffee and soft drink cups; straws, which somehow have become Plastic Enemy No. 1; and foam trays for fresh meat.

While governments want to reduce plastic waste, the industry is also experimenting with new ways of packaging. This means both the development of new materials and greater involvement in taking responsibility for the plastics that they produce and sell after those products have ended their useful life.

The slow decline of single-use plastic probably started when supermarkets stopped distributing free shopping bags for every small item. That happened in phases, but usually started around 2007.

This version of the photo posted on the Green Party website shows that Elizabeth May was holding a reusable cup with a metal straw that contained Photoshopping.

Yet the federal government says that only 11 percent of all plastics in Canada are recycled and that public opinion is shifting to waste. (Remember when Elizabeth May was photoshopped during last summer’s election campaign? She was caught on camera with a single-use cup and an employee changed the image to show a reusable cup, knowing that drinking disposable plastic could cost her votes.)

Now there is enough movement among both regulators and the industry to see us evolve from our dependence on plastic. But the road to a future with less plastic is complicated by the complexity of the material and the fact that we have grown to rely on its cheapness and strength. There is also resistance from people in the plastics industry who say the alternatives seem attractive but are unable to keep food fresh and clean.

In striving to reduce this long-term waste product, people cannot just say, “Let’s ban plastic.” Plastic is not just one material.

Recycling metals is easier. For example, recycled aluminum is used in soft drink cans and machine parts, just like new aluminum. But plastics are a wide variety of different materials with different applications, each requiring a separate recycling technology. Some are much more valuable to recyclers than others. And they are not recycled in the same form as before: today’s plastic water bottle cannot be made in another identical bottle.

That is why the simplest way to reduce plastic waste is not to recycle, but to prevent the plastic package from being made in the first place.

Food packaging is particularly complex – a variety ranging from plastic materials that are easy to recycle to others that are very difficult. “They are technically recyclable, but markets are a challenge for them,” said Duncan Bury, a consultant in Ottawa who works on environmental awareness, producer responsibility and waste.

He especially doesn’t like the lightweight foam trays that you see everywhere in the meat section of a supermarket, a material that can be recycled but does not result in a product that many customers want to buy: “There is absolutely no reason that there is orphan polystyrene in a supermarket . “

He sees a future with only three types of plastic containers – all made from materials that the recycling industry likes to work with:

• PET or PETE or polyethylene terephthalate has a number 1 in the triangular recycling symbol. It is used for bottled water and soft drinks and some box-shaped fruit and vegetable trays that are usually clear (berries, cherry tomatoes, peaches).

• HDPE, or high-density polyethylene, number 2. Many bottles with cleaning products – detergent, drain cleaner, shampoo, hand soap – are made from this material.

• PP, for polypropylene, number 5, is often used in margarine and yogurt bins and some wide-necked jars.

“Frankly, everything I’ve read says there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t pack everything in a supermarket in those three plastics, and we would get rid of everything else,” Bury said.

“The hope is that Loblaw and Sobeys and all these (stores) will simply decide not to use polystyrene.” If the company that produces or sells polystyrene becomes responsible for recycling, he thinks it would disappear from the stores soon.

“The other thing that we need to get rid of is all these multi-laminated containers,” which have some sort of material on the outside and another as a liner. Tetra pack juice boxes are an example with layers of plastic, paper and aluminum foil, and you can’t really separate them. This is how juice bags are made for children.

“Without responsibility for what happens (the containers with multiple materials), the municipalities keep the bag in their hands.

“All the worthless plastics they received – many of them were shipped abroad.” That was until China, Malaysia and the Philippines decided that they no longer want our waste. China in particular had supported our blue box system for decades by accepting shiploads of foreign plastic, but in the last two years each of these countries has stopped throwing waste away in North America. It’s all ours now. A study by Yale University indicates that many developed countries now have more plastic than they can handle.

“The advantages of the ban on China are that a lot of thought has to be given to how the system works throughout the industrialized world,” Bury said. “Frankly it’s good.

• Sobeys says in a release to stop using all disposable shopping bags this year. It says, “The change takes 225 million plastic shopping bags out of circulation every year at 255 Sobeys locations in Canada.”

The company also focuses on the transparent plastic bags that people use for fruit and vegetables and offers reusable net bags. It launched this initiative in Quebec stores last June.

Also, the Urban Fresh stores in Toronto now offer paper bags for small tomatoes instead of plastic boxes.

Vittoria Varalli, vice president of the company for sustainability, said: “There are many factors that are in balance, such as food waste and food safety when assessing the need for packaging in the supermarket supply chain. It will require a collective effort to achieve real, meaningful change for the future. “

• Loblaw says the switch to a nickel-per-bag fee has reduced the number of bags by 12 billion since 2007 (it gave $ 10 million of the bag fees to the World Wildlife Fund.)

Loblaw says that since 2009 it has also reduced the packaging of its own branded products by 4.9 million kilos. All packaging made in the store has been converted into PET plastic (the most valuable for recyclers). It has removed all the plastic microbeads (the small spots that end up in the wild) from its personal care and beauty products.

Bottled water bottles from PC brands are now 100% recycled. And the store has trash cans where customers can leave shopping bags and plastic film for recycling.

This year, Loblaw is introducing “sustainable, deposit-based packaging that can be returned and reused repeatedly.” It has not yet announced which products this system will provide.

• Walmart says it will ban the use of polystyrene on its own brand products by 2025. It also says that by 2025 it will use 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging for its own private label products.

A garbage can overflows with Tim Horton’s coffee cups near Jasper Avenue and 107 Street, in Edmonton, Friday, January 10, 2020.

• McDonald’s has opened two experimental “Green Concept Restaurants” in London and Vancouver to test new ideas for packaging and recycling. The chain stopped using polystyrene foam clamshell containers for hamburgers years ago in favor of a cardboard clamshell (for the Big Mac) or wrapped it in paper (the Egg McMuffin).

Now it is testing newer measures: a fully recyclable paper cup for cold drinks, with a waterproof coating that recyclers can handle; cardboard lids for cold drinks, with a hole for drinking so that customers do not need a straw; and wooden cutlery, wooden stirring sticks and paper straws.

Leanna Rizzi, spokeswoman for McDonald, calls the step to reduce packaging ‘a journey’, reflecting the opinion of many in both industry and the environment that redesigning our ideas about packaging will bring many changes.

“All in all, McDonald’s believes everyone should play a role to help prevent waste. I can tell you that McDonald’s have been on this journey for a long time and we are committed to innovation and looking at new packaging for our guests,” she said.

• Tim Hortons uses a lot of plastic – mainly coffee lids and bottles for water and juices. The company says it asks the customer not to scatter, but “unfortunately, many people do not pay attention to these messages.” It also offers porcelain mugs, plates and bowls for use in the restaurant.

• Starbucks says it has been reducing waste for years. Examples are a cardboard sleeve instead of a double cup to contain heat; promote reusable cups at a discount when they are used; and front-of-house recycling to stores in a number of important markets, including Toronto and Vancouver, with even more to come.

Schools have a mix of approaches. The school board of Ottawa-Carleton District says it does not have a centralized policy for single-use plastic, but “there are a number of ways in which we work to improve waste management. At the management level, this includes looking at suppliers to reduce packaging and waste. Individual schools also encourage students to bring lunches without waste, with reusable containers instead of disposable plastic.

“Schools also offer students filling stations for water bottles to prevent the need for plastic bottles.”

Until now, the major drivers for change have been provincial governments. Many of them prohibit plastic bags.

Prince Edward Island banned them on July 1; Customers can bring their own bag or a paper bag. Nova Scotia follows this example this year.

Newfoundland is looking for ways to reduce bag use; Vancouver has banned plastic straws (except bendable straws for people with disabilities) and plastic shopping bags.

And finally, the federal liberals have joined for the time being. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that “as early as 2021, Canada will ban harmful plastic for one-time use from coast to coast.” Details will follow.

“Companies are starting to address these issues, and along with the regulations such as the provincial ones that are starting to come, I think we are slowly moving in the right direction. But we still have a long, long way to go,” said consultant Duncan Bury.

A customer is leaving a Sobeys supermarket with plastic bags and a reusable bag in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on July 31, 2019.

In the meantime, paper and cardboard make a comeback. The new name for these products is “fiber”, which means wood fiber, but they are in many ways a return to packaging from the mid-1900s.

But the Canadian plastics industry said that striving to reduce plastic – especially shopping bags – is being driven politically and that the alternatives might be worse.

Paper bags use more energy to produce than plastic, need more trucks to transport because they are more bulky and cannot be easily reused, said Joe Hruska, vice president for sustainability of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA). For example, plastic bags are good as kitchen catcher bags, but paper is not.

But he suggests a way to reduce plastic use is by focusing on an item that would surprise many shoppers: the heavier, reusable shopping bag that is being marketed as a one-time use solution.

They are not recyclable. One-off shopping bags. He states that reusable bags are often thrown away rather than used a hundred times or more as intended, and the best thing any government could do to reduce this waste is the requirement that they be made from recyclable plastic.

Whatever the measures are, he said, “we think it should work together. It should not be a one-way street, because it is a very complicated issue,” and with shopping bags, “if you want to make a decision, you will have unintended consequences elsewhere that will only be worse. “

He quotes a study by Franklin Associates called Impact of Plastic Packaging on Life Cycle Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. It was commissioned by the CPIA and the American Chemistry Council.

Governments’ try to look good. I don’t like the way that legislation comes, bags are a good example in Nova Scotia. “

The industry states that most of the plastic in the ocean is not produced from Western countries, but from Asian and African countries that have no infrastructure to deal with it.

Sobeys “has deteriorated and we are disappointed because they have the facts about this and they know what they are doing – for me it’s greenwashing,” he said. (Greenwashing is a term for creating a good environmental image without substance behind it.)

Bury replies that paper still wins over plastic: “In my opinion and most environmental experts, plastics are based on non-renewable fossil fuels that have a major greenhouse gas impact in production, they are a challenge to recycle in many cases and their maladministration at the end of life has caused environmental problems with marine life, litter, etc. None of these concerns apply to paper that is easy to collect, does not require much sorting … and is easy to trade. “

Life after plastic is banned still looks “pretty much the same,” said Josh Laughren, director of Oceana Canada.

“Our recycling bins would certainly be a lot less full,” as the city would dump, he said. “And over time, our oceans would contain much less plastic.

“Change is difficult. Change is disturbing. But the solutions that exist for much of the plastic that we want to reduce are really pretty simple, “he said.” And you don’t have to go very far back in our lives to realize how easy we are without them done.”

Supermarkets have ever been troubled about whether a five-cent charge on shopping bags would disrupt customers, he said. Now it is an easy and deep-rooted habit to take bags from home.

Laughren also buys a take-away lunch from a restaurant in Toronto, Farm’r, in containers that are returned for a down payment and reused.

Food stores will still use some plastic packaging. You can buy meat and fish today in brown butcher paper in smaller specialty stores, but on a busy Saturday in the supermarket there is simply no time to package each customer’s food individually in paper. The polystyrene trays also prevent freezer from burning better than paper.

Dixie cups were once found everywhere – paper cups with a waxy coating that you could scrape off with a miniature. But they couldn’t hold a hot liquid (it melted the wax) and only held five ounces (less than 150 milliliters) – useless in a society that wants the Big Gulp format. Dixies were not strong enough to grow up.

Paper straws today make a limited comeback. But the modern ones have the same defect as the original paper straws: they get moist and collapse if you drink slowly.

More likely goals for replacement are water bottles and shopping bags, where you can bring your own permanent version if the single-use version is prohibited.

Back at NU Grocery, Valerie Leloup does not expect the food giants to ever copy her model. But she does expect that more waste-saving practices will spread in the large supermarkets.

“I believe we’re going there” as a society, she said. “I think it’s going to be mainstream.

“My biggest fear when we opened the store was that we would remain a niche for nuclear-free zero-wasters and nobody else.” But she said that regular shoppers have embraced her avoidance of waste. “We are not a store for a bunch of crazy people.”

Environment and climate change Canada is mainly focused on plastic because of the amount that ends up in lakes and oceans. The department says:

• More than 600 marine species are damaged by marine litter and at least 15 percent of them are threatened.

• It is estimated that less than 11 percent of plastics in Canada are recycled – comparable to the global rate of around nine percent.

• Since 1994, 700,000 volunteers in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup have collected more than 1.2 million kilos of waste from shoreline throughout Canada.

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