Another Path Towards Zero Waste – A Glass Blower Leads the Way

Wayne and Miyuki HarjulaWayne Harjula and Miyuki Shinkai have been evolving their glass blowing studio, Mellon Glass, since 1996. By evolving, I mean they have consciously moved away from industry trends by creating hand formed drinking glasses from discarded bottles and jars. These drinking glasses are distinct from a number of perspectives in that they; support community engagement, use materials that would otherwise be crushed or recycled, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create local employment opportunities in a small community.

The evolution of their glass blowing practices were built upon Wayne’s experience growing up in a small scale farm where he learned to be resourceful, reuse or repair things, and be environmentally aware. From this foundation, Wayne has always been concerned about waste and has become very much involved in promoting Zero Waste and developing solutions to move toward a Zero Waste society. Wayne had heard of the “Glass Mountain” and finally got to see it first hand at the Gibsons Resource Recovery Centre located in Gibsons, BC, Canada and owned and operated by Buddy Boyd and Barb Hetherington. Buddy and Barb are leaders in Zero Waste and are board members of Zero Waste Canada. They have cooperated with Wayne in helping him develop his glass prototypes by supplying the bottles and jars for Wayne’s experiments.

Creating drinking glasses from the “Glass Mountain” was not enough for Wayne, as he also wanted to use the seductive medium to constructively engage the community. To do so, Wayne engaged local merchants and individuals to develop distinct glasses with a message that increased awareness of the environment, the community, or anything else of cultural importance in a positively engaging way. For example, one of the first creations was a Zero Waste glass with a picture of a pig. Another more politically oriented series include the words “Delete, delete, delete!” which refers to an extensive series of emails being deleted by the ruling political party in British Columbia (See inserted picture).  Further opportunities to engage people is through local merchants developing their own line of glasses that may reflect the street on which they are located, the town, or any kind of distinct personally derived theme they fancy. Think Knitting or Seed Bombs.

In addition to being able to make large numbers of the same glass themes, Wayne has reduced his greenhouse gas footprint by 95% due to the unique heating process for making his glasses. Of course, as demonstrated by much of the work done by Greenomics, a consultancy in sustainable business practices, a reduction in green house gas emissions correlates directly to reductions in operating costs. Thus, Mellon Glass has reduced its gas bill from approximately $24,000/year down to $1,200/year. Plans are also underway to capture the excess heat used to create the glasses for heating bottle washing water, warming homes, and meeting other energy needs. Zero Waste applies to energy too.

While Wayne explained in his unassuming and humble manner the processes that led to his up-cycled glasses, I realized that what was really being described wasn’t the glasses at all. Rather, it was more an expression to build community, explore and learn together, be respectful of our environment, and  seek greater meaning. In other words, to create an attractive and lifelong alternative to the mainstream consumerism that is alienating and destroying our environment. The glasses are one example of creating something that is functional, captivating, environmentally sensitive, and brings people together.

This is one light toward a better future.

Zero Waste – Socio-economic Dynamo!? 71,000 New Jobs!?

Zero Waste Study - CanadaAs previously posted Greenomics, a Sustainable Business Consultancy, has engaged in a Canada Wide Study of the socio-economic impacts of pursuing Zero Waste. While the environmental benefits of Zero Waste are well know, preliminary findings suggest there is also a significant opportunity to improve social well-being while stimulating the economy. This creates a triple win for communities by realizing robust environmental, social, and economic benefits. Further, it appears that the closer the management of local Zero Waste programs are conducted on a local scale the greater the results.

How Zero Waste (ZW) Can Improve Social Well Being

The social benefits of pursuing Zero Waste are only limited by a community’s efforts in leveraging the potential. Three key areas include social engagement for all community members including the disadvantaged through the creation of a social hub, and generating cultural opportunities.

  1. ZW provides multiple job levels that include opportunities for those who have employment challenges. These jobs include entrepreneurial, managerial, custodial and skilled labour. People with learning or physical challenges are provided with the opportunity to contribute, earn money, and build their confidence.
  2. ZW serves as a Community Hub where neighbours meet one another while learning of Zero Waste successes through educational social programs. This includes information and updates on Zero Waste programs, quantitative data on the community’s success in achieving their Zero Waste goals, experiential educational opportunities, and the ability to contributing to making the world a better place. Community pride is enhanced.
  3. Diverted materials are kept within the community and activities using these materials can be created that let people express themselves in a creatively social way. This includes events such as fashion shows, various racing events, arts programs, and other cultural activities.

How Zero Waste Stimulates the Economy

By keeping the materials that used to be buried in garbage dumps, opportunities and associated job creation abound. Three key areas for economic stimulation in local communities include resource preparation, new products, and refurbishing.

  1. Sorting and preparing materials. Reclaimed material is sorted and prepared for reuse and then made available to manufacturers for purchasing, thus creating local jobs that bring money into a community that would otherwise not be realized.
  2. Manufacturing opportunities. Communities can start manufacturing businesses from the material diverted from garbage dumps. For example, 50% of residential waste is compostable materials thus providing the feedstock for composting to create rich soil that can be sold to gardeners and other others to enrich their soil.
  3. Refurbishing. Refurbishing is a well established business that is a significant contributor to the economy, but may not be recognized as such. Renovating one’s home or business is considered refurbishing for examples. The materials that can be diverted, such as doors, can be refurbished and sold thus creating jobs and revenue.

Zero Waste Creates Significant New Jobs

Zero Waste programs will eventually starve out garbage dumps and waste incinerators, and those jobs supporting those activities will be eliminated. However, the number of jobs created through Zero Waste initiatives will replace those jobs and add a significant number more. Our preliminary analysis suggests:

If Canada achieves 75% diversion, 19,000 jobs will be lost in the current waste management industry. However, these jobs will be replaced by approximately 90,000 new jobs in the waste diversion sector for a net gain of 71,000 jobs nationally.

Have Information to help with this study?

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Zero Waste Study - Canada

A Fowl Tale of Marketing (WARNING: Some pictures below may be disturbing)

“All chickens are humanely raised…”

We need your perspective. Please read and see survey at end of this post. Thank you!

Humanely treated, no antibiotics, 100% vegetable diet.

Humanely treated, no antibiotics, 100% vegetable diet. Sounds good!

 

What happens when the perception of how animals are treated appears to be different than reality? Do we shrug and simply accept the reality, or do we step up to the plate and seek answer in hopes of improving their conditions? At Greenomics, we argue that one of the benefits of pursuing sustainable business practices such as being able to demonstrate efforts to improve the environment, improve the treatment of animals, or improve social conditions leads to increased profitability. Those who do not pursue such practices lose market share and acceptance by consumers and will progressively become less profitable. So, here is a test of that argument and a test in the power of blogs and social media. In this case, it is a fowl tale of perception versus reality and how a company does not seriously address the concerns by going silent.

Skin bruised on thigh not noticed when purchased.

Skin bruised on thigh not noticed when purchased.

 

JUST THE FACTS PLEASE

We have been sitting on this story since May, of 2015 to enable the company in question plenty of time to properly respond to our concerns related to the treatment of their product, which is poultry. The story begins simply enough with the purchase of a whole specialty chicken that was touted as being fed with good quality grains, no hormones, no antibiotics and are processed carefully., We purchased this chicken purposefully because we like to support companies that offer alternatives to the mainstream factory food products with their use of growth hormones, antibiotics, forced feeding and general mistreatment of the animals. However, once we started to prepare the chicken for the BBQ, we discovered evidence of mistreatment prior to death.

Thigh bruised throughout tissue.

Thigh bruised throughout tissue.

 

Once we removed the plastic wrapper, we immediately noticed what appeared to be a bruise on the skin of one of the bird’s thighs about the size of a dime. We peeled back the skin and found that the flesh underneath was also bruised and covered an area about the size of a loony. Although concerned, we continue the process of preparing the bird by bucking it up into pieces such as legs, breasts, and wings.

As we cut the bruised thigh away from the body, we were quite disturbed from discovering coagulated blood around the joint and the primary vein that leads from the body into the leg.

Clearly, this animal had received a blow from a blunt device though we can only speculate what that device might have been.

While having a negative impact on our appetites, we decided to continue the process out of a concern for waste and respect for the life given for our meal. We tried cooking it, however having sampled a small portion of the bruise it was stringy, bad tasting and when combined with the daunting appearance of the cooked coagulated blood we decided to feed it to the crabs. (We were anchored in a remote cove.)

OUR RESPONSE

We took our pictures through the process which we include in this post, and sent an email to the Customer Service representative at Heritage Farm. We specifically stated:

Coagulated blood in veins and throughout soft tissue.

Coagulated blood in veins and throughout soft tissue.

 

  1. We are concerned about the processing methods currently used in terms of the animal’s experience.
  2. We assume you are concerned about the impact on the quality of the product and how it impacts people’s dinner quality.
  3. We assume your company is interested in hearing of these issues so that improvements can continue to be made to ensure the humane treatment of your animals and the quality of the product.

We were pleased to get an almost immediate response, although the language seemed a little practiced and the offer suggested the point may have been missed:

I would like to thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention. At Heritage Farms we take animal welfare very seriously, and I will be looking into this. Quality is important to us, as is customer feedback. Would you like us to send another whole Chicken to Clayton’s for you?

The result we wanted was an explanation of how this could have happened and what is being done to prevent it from happening again, not simply get a replacement bird (a mindset that is oddly discomforting). Similar to “Sorry I killed your Labrador retriever, here’s another one just like it.

Pointing out that we were more concerned about improved conditions and offering help was not replied to for three months. We followed up by asking if any progress had been made, and got a similar response about how Heritage Farms takes the treatment of its animals seriously and that they continue to take the matter seriously. Adding “I believe the issue has been addressed, as I have not had a complaint about any similar instances of this occurring, however it is an issue that I will continue to monitor closely.”

We proposed an inexpensive third party certification program, offered by the SPCA, as being a cost effective and credible approach to ensure the birds are treated well. Having a third party certification would reduce any misperception of messaging versus reality. That suggestion was offered in the first week of September, 2015, and there has been no reply since. We sent a follow up email asking for an update in early February 2016, 5 months later, and again there was no response. So, this series of events has been unfolding for 9 months without any signs of progress.

We have been concerned about posting this experience as we do not want to do harm, but if we are to see improvements then we cannot simply remain silent and let this pass into the forgotten.

We have our perspective, but would love to hear yours. Please take this 4 question multiple choice survey and help us get a pulse on what is and is not acceptable. It will take about 30 seconds.

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ANNOUNCEMENT! Environmental, Socio-economical Viability of Zero Waste Hierarchy Study

Zero Waste Study - CanadaWhile it is common practice to state the socio-economic benefits of sustainable business practices, we at Greenomics are committed to backing such claims based on an unbiased analysis that quantify the return on the investment. We also understand that that all the required data may not be available, and as such we are committed to being as accurate as possible using reasonable assumptions. As such, we are now conducting a national study to determine whether there are in fact economic and social benefits to pursuing Zero Waste as defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance Zero Waste Hierarchy. This decision was made by our Founder and President, Erich Schwartz, in response to a heightened sense of urgency based on his personal experiences from sailing around Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

In his 1988 Hunter 35.5, Orion, he circumnavigated Vancouver Island to escape the City of Vancouver, explore the “real” West Coast, and immerse himself in the seclusion and raw beauty that make the west side of Vancouver Island such an attraction. What he found however was that no matter how remote the location, there was garbage everywhere, both in the water and all along the shoreline.

Of the roughly two-dozen anchorages made, the Bunsby Islands located on the North West side of Vancouver Island were one of the more remote. As part of the B.C. Marine Park system, these islands are not only beautiful, they are also compelling to explore, as their diverse shorelines include cliffs, beaches, forests, and mudflats. However, not only were they amongst the most remote they coincidentally contained the highest concentration of waste. The garbage was quite diverse and included cans, bottles, plastic bags, clothing and tofu containers. Due to the concentration of the garbage Erich decided that we had to find its source(s), its impacts, and what can be done about it if the impact was indeed detrimental (not just an eyesore).

A preliminary review of scientific reports from the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has led us to conclude that the damage being caused by human generated garbage is manifest in multiple categories and needs to be addressed in an economically viable manner to not only stop the flow of waste but also develop solutions to address the damage already caused.

zerowastecanada-logo-200We already have the support for this study from our Zero Waste Program partner Zero Waste Canada and would appreciate other organizations or individuals help us in this endeavour.

If you are interested in monitoring the progress of our analysis or if you have information and ideas that you think would be of value to our efforts, we would love to hear from you.

Please call us directly at: +1.604.790.1490

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Is Our Future Revealed from the Past?

short-historyOn occasion, a book comes across my desk that has a profound impact on my understanding of the nature of our species, how we got to where we are, and where we are likely to be heading. Although “A Short History of Progress” by Ronald Wright was written in 2004, I did not pick it up until 11 years later. It was not recommended to me, nor had I heard of it. I just happened to be browsing a library and it caught my eye – serendipitous it would seem. I have since learned that it was a best seller and one critic provided the following overview:

A brilliant analysis of everything humanity has done to ruin itself down the ages.

Jan Morris
Books of the Year
Independent on Sunday

Its relevance to me is helping me grasp why we have not taken advantage of sustainable business practices despite the financial advantages and the preservation imperative of addressing climate change.

It was 24 years ago, when I was a financially challenged graduate student and very much involved in environmental and political issues. A cohort of mine, Joan Russow  who later became the Leader of Canada’s Green Party, was also short on cash but was able to gather enough to fly to Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, also known as the Earth Summit. We had such hopes that we were on the path to effecting positive changes that would ensure an inhabitable environment for future generations. It was an amazing time filled with hope, as tens of thousands of people representing 172 countries gathered to address the mounting environmental challenges resulting from human activity.

The outcomes were encouraging as many countries signed legally binding agreements. These included the Convention on Biological Diversity which sought to protect biodiversity, use natural resources sustainably, and ensure equitable sharing of genetic resources. There was also the Framework Convention on Climate Change which focused on stabilizing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that would not threaten life.

In other words, we acknowledged the damage we were doing to the foundations of life, decided to face up to this fact by assuming responsibility, and actually take concrete steps to address the issues. Heady times indeed!

Now, here we are in 2016, and after more than 2 decades of debate, we reached a landmark agreement on December 12 in Paris, which mapped out some key directives for the world including:

 

  • the goal of limiting global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius
  • Establish binding commitments by all parties to make “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), and to pursue domestic measures aimed at achieving them;
  • mobilize $100 billion a year in support by 2020 through 2025

The expression “Better late than never” comes to mind, but may not actually apply in this case. Let’s start with the ticking time bomb of GHG concentrations which scientists argue need to be stabilized at approximately 350 part per million. In 1992 the concentrations were at around 360 PPM. Now we are hovering around 400 PPM and rising, and the rate at which we are contributing GHGs is increasing. This is due to most developed countries not seriously addressing the issue and developing countries rapidly growing their economies by burning fossil fuels.

While the Pairs Summit goal is to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the reality is we don’t even have mechanisms nor plans to keep warming below 4 degrees Celsius!

 

While the world is finally mobilizing, rather than changing our behavior that led to our current condition, we are using our old methods to address the very problem they created. We are throwing more money at innovation in hopes that we can resolve the problem with new technology. Which brings us back to the book “A Short History of Progress”. I will not provide a spoiler here, but think Easter Island and the demise of that civilization.

A well known quote that has been attributed to many, including Albert Einstein the famous theoretical physicist, is:

“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”

At Greenomics, we argue that the future is dependent on individuals who embrace sustainable business practices and demonstrate leadership through environmental restoration and social justice. Some of our future blogs will focus on these individuals and companies who are leading the way. They are pursuing alternative solutions and directions to juggernaut  corporations and governments. So, I encourage you to read the book, and ponder how the insights relate to your own experience, and decide how you want to move forward.

“Command and Control” the Coming Garbage Gold Rush

Zero WasteNow that the holiday season has passed wherein we generated more garbage than any other time of year, it is time to reflect. Many of us live in a place where the waste is taken to the magic land of “away”, and we don’t have to worry about it. However, as we shift toward a greener economy, this is not the best way to serve our communities and to stimulate local economic development. What if we looked at waste as a resource that can be mined to make products we want and create local jobs? By strategically rethinking the waste stream, politicians, governments, citizens, and businesses can work together to generate wealth from what is currently a financial, environmental, and social erosion.

Strategic thinking from a business perspective can be quite simple. Crystal ball future needs and get positioned to meet those needs. For example, a clear strategic decision was made by the Bush family (former US presidents) when they acquired approximately 100,000 acres of farm land on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. While running a ranch may be part of the plan, the purchase sits on top of significant natural gas reserves as well as one of the largest underground water resources in the world. It is projected that both will be in high demand in the coming years, and now the Bushes are positioned to provide those resources once the price point tips to profitability. Is it possible that garbage dumps can become strategic resources too? We think so, and it appears some businesses and governments are positioning themselves to be players in this emerging resource industry.

While buying a garbage dump will not be as lucrative as the above deal, it is still an opportunity for visionaries. Typical urban waste is around 50% organics, which if composted becomes soil enriching fertilizer. Given our need for rich soil to grow food, by extracting the organics out of the waste stream we enhance our food production capabilities, and reduce our ‘garbage’ and demand for landfills by 50%. We also save money by reducing how much we pay to have our waste removed and acquire fertilizer for our gardens. But what about the other 50% still being dumped in the landfill?

As we move into an increasingly resource constrained world, the solid waste stream will become more important as a source for resources to produce the various products we demand. In most cases, the current perspective is simply to get the waste out of sight and out of mind as quickly and as cheaply as possible. This view will change and savvy businesses are starting to lead the charge in mining the waste stream profitably. For example, there is Urban Ore in Berkeley, California, Gibsons Resource Recovery Centre in British Columbia, and Kretsloppsparken in Gothenburg, Sweden. And this is just the start of the “gold rush” since studies by the World Bank indicate the potential annual production of solid waste to reach 27 billion tons/year by 2050. This is roughly the equivalent of 50 times the number of passenger cars in the US, which means there are plenty of opportunities for other players to enter the arena. We know that some companies have already figured out how to “mine’ the marine plastic in the Pacific to make packaging.

To solve our current challenges related to waste diversion, we need to engage the business community, but the critical question is “What is the best way to achieve success”?

There is much discussion in the waste management industry about moving to an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) model. The concept is to decrease the environmental impact of a product by making manufacturers responsible for the entire life-cycle of their products and packaging – including disposal. Given the costs of waste removal are covered through taxes, the idea of transferring those costs onto the producer and those who purchase their products sounds like a good idea. However, it is the implementation that will determine who benefits.

This brings us from thinking strategically to thinking tactically. EPR has been mandated in British Columbia by the Ministry of the Environment, and in response Multi-material British Columbia (MMBC) was formed as a not-for-profit organization to implement EPR across the province. Their mandate is to reclaim 75% of all packaging identified in the regulations. So, from a tactical business perspective, if something cannot be stopped, then it should be managed. A perspective that became clear when Alan Langdon, chair of the MMBC board, stated “From a producer point of view, if we’re going to have full financial responsibility, we want to have a say in how efficient it is.” So what changes are afoot?

First, there will be a management shift away from local governments and to a Command and Control model driven by producers and retailers through MMBC and the Recycling Council of British Columbia. This becomes a philosophical perspective with implications for the economy, society, and the environment. A shift to a command and control (CnC) structure for recycling can actually stymie local creativity in addressing waste issues because of the one model fits all approach. Meaning if an enterprising individual identifies a business opportunity that uses the waste stream as a resource, such as Eco-flex in Alberta, they would have to compete with the provincial entity for that resource. Such a scenario is likely and would lead to lost opportunities for local economic development.

Second, there will be a financial infusion from industry into recycling. BC’s Ministry of Environment claims the EPR program will reduce the financial burden to general taxpayers by $60-million to $100-million a year. However, the costs of an EPR would still be passed on to the consumer and most likely disproportionately given many of the products and packaging we get comes from outside of BC. Further, additional environmental issues are likely to arise as the waste that was distributed through the province would then have to be centralized for processing, which will increase transportation costs and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

The third big shift will be the management of waste from government (i.e. municipalities) to Producer Responsibility Organizations such as MMBC. While the stated intention is to increase recycling rates, it also undermines a local community’s abilities to use the waste stream as a resource for local job creation and economic stimuli.

As an advocate for cultivating the green economy and having the private sector provide the products and services we want and need, I am not suggesting we prevent the private sector from taking over the management of the waste stream. However, the old management style of CnC that is being developed for managing the EPR program is more likely to damage the emerging green economy as it is to address our waste stream challenges.

Waste streams are one of many topics on every municipality’s plate and generally seen as a problem rather than an opportunity. However, from the perspective of seeing the waste stream as a resource rather than a problem, local authorities appear to be unknowingly giving up local autonomy and the opportunity to cultivate a greener economy.

We need to be more creative by developing a grass roots distributed solution.