The Yukon Refillery

Located in the Horwoods Mall the Yukon Refillery is an exciting new low-waste business in Whitehorse. They offer a range of high quality environmentally conscious personal care, household cleaning, and laundry products for sale by weight using your own re-used containers.

We sat down with Michelle who opened the business with her husband (Baird) this year. The business idea started early in 2020 and plans were made for a permanent location opening in March of 2020. That is until COVID upended plans for many small businesses including The Refillery. They then shifted to an alternative plan where they would get the business started at the Fireweed Market over the summer. Although delayed, an official storefront was opened in October at the Horwoods Mall.

In the brightly lit modern space, you can find laundry soap, dish detergent, shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, surface cleaners, toothpaste, deodorant, and other products. Simply bring in re-usable containers and they can be filled with whatever you are looking for. If you forget a container they stock a “Container Library” of washed and re-used glass containers.  They are building their stock with an ethos of as local as possible and as sustainable as possible. Currently they carry North American brands including Pure Line, Sensibility, Sapadilla, Bottle None, and Oneka. They also hope to hear from customers about what products they would love to see to help build the inventory.

So far, The Refillery has limited opening hours on Friday and Saturday but the community enthusiasm remains high. When we were there customers were consistently coming and going, reflecting a demand for low-waste shipping options.

In the last few years, a wave of low-waste bulk retailers using this model has spread across the continent. It is hard to deny the advantages of this type of shopping. For one you are decreasing your waste by re-using packaging. Secondly, you get to choose the volume you would like to purchase. That means you are not restricted by the manufacturer to buy a large volume of something you know you need or conversely a small amount of a product to try it without spending much money.

Opening this business and getting a retail location in the midst of COVID is a huge achievement for a family run business. At this time, the goal of the business is to grow their opening hours and establish an inventory of items sought in the community. In the future, they would like to expand beyond home and personal care items towards food products.

We are excited that amidst the challenges of 2020, an exciting low-waste business is succeeding in our community. The Yukon Refillery is without a doubt a Zero Hero business!

Follow The Yukon Refillery on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/yukonrefillery) and instagram @yukonrefillery.

Firebean Coffee Roasters

If you enjoy local coffee, then you probably know Firebean Coffee Roasters. The small-batch Yukon roaster is bringing old school techniques to the forefront of the northern coffee roasting scene.

Sole proprietor Michael Russo calls his small business a case of “accidental entrepreneurship”. What started out as a hobby has grown organically into a successful small business. Russo began fire-roasting coffee using a hand spinner, and soon recognized an opportunity to do more. It was on a visit to a museum in Parry Sound that he found the stationary bike that would take his hobby to the next level.

He brought the bike home and connected it to a repurposed pizza oven. He began churning out “pedal-powered” coffee and the business has been growing ever since. In the early days he and his partner Sarah were producing 10 lbs a week, now they’re producing 100.

Firebean’s bicycle roasting set-up next to some ready-to-roast beans. (Photo: Michael Russo)

 

“We value the old school art and the craft”, says Firebean’s website – “working with simple technologies towards a valuable end is fulfilling”.

In this day and age, where technology is becoming increasingly complex and resources must be extracted faster and faster to keep pace, this is just the type of system we need more of. Simple, low-impact, local enterprises are essential to build resilient, sustainable communities.

“The bike always works”, says Michael.

Whether it’s minus 30 or plus 30, there’s no worrying about power outages or mechanical issues that come with electric or gas roasting systems. This also means less waste as Russo doesn’t have to purchase gas or rely on electricity. Their system is simple and reliable. As long as he can pedal, he can roast, and because the set-up is wood-fired, the energy supply is 100% renewable.

Working with fire instead of gas or electricity requires more attention to keep the right temperature, but the energy source is 100% renewable. (Photo: Michael Russo)

 

Russo and family have been moving around a fair amount, so the bike’s portability is also an asset. He says that his relationship with the bike has become somewhat love-hate. He still enjoys the process, and it keeps him healthy. The bike-powered aspect of his business is also powerful marketing. On the flip side he says, “biking (for fun) has lost some of its appeal”.

 

“Lean and mean”

 

Working at such a small scale, the business is, in Michael’s words, “lean and mean”. This means they are able to do things that other businesses might not be able to, including testing out different ways of reducing waste in the business.

Producing small batches of coffee means they turn over their inventory faster than larger scale roasters. This has allowed Firebean to switch to using a lower barrier compostable coffee bag for some of their more frequently purchased bags and high frequency shop deliveries. These bags are actually cheaper than a conventional coffee bag, meaning the savings are financial as well as environmental. They also hand stamp their bags, saving costs and materials.

“Millennials read the packaging”, Russo says. He recognizes that customers are looking more and more at the environmental footprint of their products and packaging. “Years ago we probably wouldn’t be thinking as much about our environmental footprint, but I think everyone is recognizing that there’s responsibility involved in running a business”.

Firebean is using a compostable bag for some of its roasts, cutting down on materials and costs. (Photo: Michael Russo)

 

One way they’re cutting down waste is by selling coffee in bulk, and supplying it in reusable pails as well. This has presented challenges, as the pails are hard to keep track of, but currently they still bring their bulk beans to Riverside Grocery this way. Once empty they’re returned, washed and ready to transport another batch.

“We’re planning to bring bulk to the Fireweed Market this year”, Russo tells me. “I think it lines up with some of the values the market is trying to promote, and we really believe in putting stuff out there just to see what happens”.

Last Christmas, they found some antique canning jars at the Wish Factory in Whitehorse and put them to good use, selling coffee and gift cards in a container that could be reused again and again.

Russo dropping off fresh bulk at Riverside Grocery in Whitehorse. (Photo: Michael Russo)

 

Firebean really doesn’t produce much waste during production. Apart from a small bit of chaff left over from the roasting (this just ends up on the ground to decompose) and ash from the oven, it’s almost a Zero Waste affair.

 

Building community

 

Firebean is also helping grow a more local circular economy through collaborations with other Yukon businesses:

They’ve partnered with Bean North Coffee Roasters to do a roasting day, and teamed up with Winterlong Brewing to create a Rye Coffee Porter and “Divine,” a special edition barrel aged coffee and beer. They partnered with Deep Dark Wood Brewing Company on a Golden Sour beer. Their coffee has also been used in Yukon-made soaps, Yukon chocolate and Yukon salts from Axe and Crocus in Dawson City.

These partnerships are vital to building strong relationships with other local businesses and supporting a sustainable local economy.

Russo’s advice to other businesses?

“I’m reticent to preach to others”, he says. “What works for us might not necessarily work for others. I would say to test stuff out, see how it works. One of the benefits of being small is that we can fiddle around until things work”.

He encourages others to try any small step.

“No business is too big or too small, and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Small ideas are worth testing and no effort is too little to try if it means you’re moving closer to Zero Waste”.

This fiddling around seems to be paying off, and here’s hoping more exciting things are to come from Firebean Coffee Roasters.

Check them out on Facebook, Instagram, or at their website, www.firebeancoffee.ca

 

Aroma Borealis

Since 1998, Aroma Borealis has provided locally made natural herbal health and aromatherapy products to Yukoners. Their products are a reflection of the northern boreal forest and the people who live here. They also strive to create products that are kind to the Earth, and this environmental commitment extends into all facets of the business. I sat down with manager Jennifer to discuss Aroma Borealis’ Zero Waste journey.

If you’re on social media, you may have seen a post recently that Aroma Borealis had installed bulk containers for shampoo, conditioner, bubble bath and body wash.

“It was one of our most popular posts,” Jennifer tells me. This isn’t surprising, as the Yukon community clearly wants to be part of the refill revolution. Currently you can bring in any 8 oz (or multiple thereof) container and refill. They even offer glass mason jars with pumps if you prefer not to use plastic bottles!

You aren’t able to buy in bulk by weight yet, but they are working out the logistics with the hope that soon you can bring any container you like to fill up.

When asked about the reaction from the public, Jennifer says it has been “so, so good. People are very excited about the opportunity to bring their own container. The excitement is coming from all ages too, which is nice.”

Providing bulk options doesn’t only save resources and reduce waste, it’s also good for business. Jennifer says that the store saw a spike in sales with the announcement of their bulk section. It’s not just shampoo and conditioner either, you can also get lotion, beeswax and cocoa butter in bulk!

 

Beyond Bulk

Bulk offerings aren’t the only way Aroma Borealis is trying to reduce their footprint. They offer many package free soaps and bath bombs, and always try to use reusable, plant-friendly and/or recyclable packaging. They are also exploring ways they could potentially use Loop packaging, where consumers buy items in reusable containers and simply return them to the store to be cleaned and recirculated!

The store has two composts, one picked up by the city and a garden compost which the staff bring home to use in their gardens. All the staff members take their lunch waste home. “We’re all responsible for our own waste,” says Jennifer. “For a long time I didn’t even know where the garbage bin was because we create so little actual trash!”

When I asked Jennifer what was challenging about reducing waste she didn’t really have an answer. “If anything the challenge is how to cater to all people’s needs and keep options open,” she says.

“As far as reducing waste goes, it hasn’t been challenging, in fact it’s easy, and you feel good. It’s really exciting and we just want to keep going. We’re always asking ourselves, what else can we do?”

 

Changing the supply chain

Aroma Borealis is also setting an example of how businesses can influence suppliers in order to reduce wastage. They ask some suppliers to send only clear bottles for some products because they can be reused over and over in store when crafting products instead of having to be recycled.

“The companies have been very receptive,” says Jennifer. This shows that stores don’t have to settle for the status quo, but can be proactive in trying to use more environmentally friendly packaging options. It also shows that local retailers have some say in how they receive products.

If you’re unhappy with the packaging in your local store, speak up about it. Make contact. The more people that do, the more we’ll see local business actively pursuing alternatives through their suppliers, and producers designing for the circular economy.

Learn more about Aroma Borealis at aromaborealis.com or stop by the store at 504-B Main Street in Whitehorse!

 

 

 

Riverside Grocery

Guest post alert!

We asked the folks at Riverside Grocery to tell us about their Zero Waste efforts – here’s their story!

 

Moving towards Zero Waste has been a work in progress for us. Beginning with single use plastic grocery bags, we continue to brainstorm ways to eliminate more and more unnecessary waste that we produce. While we have increased our awareness and reduced our waste by approximately 90%, there are still a lot of ways we can continue to improve.

In July of 2015, we announced that we would be eliminating single use plastic grocery bags in the upcoming months. We received a mainly encouraging response, and a lot of questions about why we made this decision. After seeing so many bags littering the streets and wilderness of not only the Yukon, but the oceans, forests, and beaches we visited, we were inspired to make a change. The elimination of bags turned out to be an easy transition and our customers were so supportive. On October 10, 2015, we gave away our last single use plastic grocery bag. To ensure continued success we provide cardboard boxes for customers to take home, help customers carry groceries to the car, and of course encourage everyone to bring a bag.

 

Riverside’s delicious soft-serve ice-cream can be served into any container, and they encourage customers to bring their own!

 

Compostables!

 

We were happy to see the positive response from our community, and from there we were aware of all the other areas we could easily improve upon. We had sourced compostable cups for our coffee, soft-serve ice cream and slushies, but we were still using plastic straws. In 2016 we sourced bulk compostable paper straws so everything we provide for ice cream and slushies is completely compostable.

When the City of Whitehorse began the pilot program for businesses to have compost bins, we jumped in whole-heartedly. Having an organic produce section in store it made perfect sense. Between composting and being much more aware of our recycling, especially paper and cardboard, we have reduced our garbage production by approximately 90%.

In addition to our compost bin, we put all of our certified organic produce that would be composted aside for Ibex Valley Farm. The chickens at Ibex Valley eat all of our no-longer-perfect organics and produce quality eggs that we sell. This mutually beneficial relationship reduces waste and energy, strengthens the business community in town, and gives us a great way to get to know the impressive and wonderful business of Ibex Valley Farm.

Bulk Bins!

 

The next phase came in spring of 2018 with the arrival of our bulk bins. We had wanted bulk bins for years, and we knew all along that when finally got them we wanted them to be as waste-free as possible. We would need a reliable ‘tare’ system so customers could bring any container they had available, and and easy to learn system of refilling containers. We always encourage customers bring their own container when possible, and foster a learning environment for bulk shopping. From our own experience we know it can take a few reminders to bring containers and bags; it’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight.

There are numerous options in bulk at Riverside, and the best part is you can tare your own container, something the larger grocery chains don’t allow (Photo: Riverside Grocery)

 

When we got the tare system up and running (‘taring’ is the ability to weigh a container before filling it, allowing someone to pay for only the weight of the product inside the container, and not pay for the weight of the container itself), the sky was the limit. We now offer a Bring Your Own Container option for everything in our bulk bins,  soft serve ice cream, slushies, icebergs, penny candy, locally brewed Summit Kombucha, and bar soap and shampoo bars from fellow Zero Hero, The Yukon Soaps Company. It is so encouraging to see so many people coming in with containers doing their best to reduce their waste. From coffee mugs from home for ice cream, to home made cloth bags to grab a few handfuls of snow peas from the produce cooler.

Zero Waste soaps from the Yukon Soaps Company in Mayo, YT.

 

We still have a long way to go on the road to Zero Waste, and we have a few more ideas up our sleeves. While everyone tries their best, it is a work in progress and we still love seeing someone carrying a big cardboard box filled with groceries out the door if they forget their bags. The participation from the community is what keeps us inspired and motivated to do more. We are learning along with the rest of town; only 5 short years ago the thought of Zero Waste was barely on our minds. However, it is amazing to see what a close-knit town of like minded, outdoor adventuring, passionate people can achieve.

 

Riverside Grocery is located at 201 Lowe St. in Whitehorse. Check them out at www.riversidegrocery.ca or on Facebook or Instagram!

 

 

Fahrenheit Hair

Maybe you have heard the buzz around Whitehorse lately about a certain salon doing things a little differently. Indeed, Chantelle Tarapaski and her team at Fahrenheit Hair are leading the way when it comes to waste diversion. Fahrenheit is the only salon in the Yukon to be designated a Green Circle Salon, and is a model for other local businesses.

Owner of Fahrenheir Hair Chantelle Tarapaski gave a tour to Mayor Dan Curtis to discuss all the ways they’re diverting waste (Photo: Fahreneheit Hair)

 

What’s a Green Circle Salon?

 

Green Circle Salons is a business dedicated to diverting salon and spa waste from landfills and waterways. By signing up with Green Circle, Fahrenheit now has a way to repurpose and recover some of the resources that they cannot recycle locally, many of which are contaminated.

Green Circle approached Tarapaski to see if she wanted to sign up for their service. At first, she admits she was hesitant.

“I felt that Green Circle might be using us to profit on protecting the environment, but then I realized this was a good thing because they were actually doing something good,” she says.

“If gas companies can profit off something harmful to the Earth, why shouldn’t a business profit off helping to protect it?”

A glimpse at Fahrenheit Hair salon, located at 2099 2nd Ave in Whitehorse (Photo: Fahrenheit Hair)

 

Before signing up, Tarapaski wanted to make sure that she knew what was going to happen to the materials her salon sent out. She took a trip south to tour the Green Circle facilities. She drilled them about different items and was impressed with the system in place for recovering materials.

Fahrenheit pays Green Circle for the service, and in return, ships out her salon waste to be recycled. Tarapaski recoups some of the cost by charging a $2 eco-fee to her customers, who are glad to pay. All the recyclable materials and contaminates are collected and stored before they are shipped out to Green Circle.

Aerosols and colour tubes are some of the hard to recycle materials that Fahrenheit ships out through Green Circle (Photo: Fahrenheit Hair)

 

What does Green Circle collect?

 

Fahrenheit Hair collects and ships a long list of different items to Green Circle. Contaminated foils, aerosols, colour tubes, excess hair colour, and any spa waste with contaminates or chemicals are included. They also send their hair clippings.

The hair clippings go to a corrections facility in Maple Ridge, where they are stuffed into old nylons to create booms. These booms are used to soak up oil spills from water. When the booms have been used and re-used to their capacity, they are brought to mushroom fields where they are broken down by fungal spores.

Some other items are separated and recycled, while the remainder go to a waste-to-energy incinerator. On top of all the materials shipped out through Green Circle, Fahrenheit collects all their recyclables, and keeps a compost bin in the staff room for organics. They’ve also invested in water saving EcoHead taps.

Materials like contaminated foils are stored in the office until there’s enough to make a shipment to Green Circle (Photo: Fahrenheit Hair)

 

Tarapaski says she was asked a lot about the salon materials from her customers and was feeling some pressure to give them answers.

She says making the change to divert more waste was a bit of work at the beginning, but now things are easier.

“I wasn’t always environmentally conscious,” she says.  “Now I get anxiety in the stores when I see all the packaging.”

There are many containers associated with running a salon, so that means many trips to the recycling centre.

“My offices are full of recycling but it’s worth it,” she says.

Fahrenheit diverts about 95% of their waste, and fills less than half a small bag of trash every month.

 

What’s next?

 

Tarapaski says the response from her customers has been nothing but positive. She’s continuing to look at ways the salon can further reduce its footprint.

She is looking into whether her hair clippings could go to our local composting facility, which would save on emissions. She also has plans to order some organic cotton produce bags that she can provide free to customers.

More importantly, Tarapaski is encouraging more local salons to sign up. She’s hoping the industry gets to a point where every salon is working cooperatively to reduce their waste.

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

Fahrenheit Hair is located at 2099 – 2nd Ave. For more information call 668-2882 or visit their Facebook page.

 

 

Joella Hogan & The Yukon Soaps Company

The Yukon Soaps Company has been around for nearly 20 years. It is Indigenous owned and operated by Joella Hogan. Made with many locally grown ingredients, her soaps are a staple for Yukoners looking for a natural, handcrafted product.

Joella lives in Mayo, the heart of the Yukon, where “people have a deep respect for the land and what it can provide.” She says her inspiration comes from the land around her and the “wonderfully creative people” that she surrounds herself with.

“I was raised to be aware of human impacts on land, water, and the environment,” says Joella, who also has an academic background in Environmental Science and Planning. “I strive to live a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle and support other makers of things homemade.”

So what brought her to soap-making?

“I always had an interest in healing plants and traditional medicine, and I wanted something natural and creative to suit those interests,” says Joella. This has translated into creating “products that have a small footprint, use local ingredients as much as possible, and that continue to meet the needs of those who enjoy my products.”

She is also a beader, and has combined her passion for traditional First Nations beadwork with her soap-making. She recently launched a line of unscented soaps that showcase beadwork from Northern Tutchone women from Mayo. Different beadwork pieces are photographed and printed on dissolvable paper which is then set into each bar. Each soap tells the artists’ story and a bit about the piece that was photographed.

One of the soaps from Joella’s Indigenous Artisans line. (Joella Hogan)

Joella has been operating the Yukon Soaps Company for 7 years now. When she started, she wrapped her soaps in paper with a sticker. Wanting to cut down on types of packaging and quantity, she later moved to a simple sticker on plain bars of soap, drastically cutting down on packaging.

“I wanted people to see the soap,” she says.

Joella’s soaps use minimal packaging, reducing waste and letting customers “see the soap.” (Joella Hogan)

 

Joella also has customers who buy large amounts, so she decided to create a way to sell in bulk and further cut down on packaging. Recently she’s created a Zero Waste line of bulk soaps. Customers can either buy a bulk batch, fill their own containers with bulk soap, or purchase bulk soaps in pre-weighed reusable jars. She also sells some of her soaps in small, reusable cloth bags, because reuse is vital to cutting down on waste. “I have a really close relationship with our Free Store,” she says.

Running a small business isn’t without challenges, especially if you’re trying to minimize waste.

“Living in the North, there’s a lot of packaging involved with bringing ingredients in,” she says. To combat this, Joella tries to always buy in bulk, and sources local ingredients as much as possible. Plants such as juniper, fireweed, rose hips, and even fair trade coffee beans donated by Yukon’s Bean North Coffee Roasters are just some of the ingredients in her essential soap bars line.

Local juniper berries and fireweed provide the makings for “Yukon Gin & Tonic Soap.” (Joella Hogan)

 

Her advice for anyone looking to adopt more sustainable business practices and lower their footprint?

“There are so many ways that small businesses can work towards Zero Waste. It takes some time and work up front to look at options and decide what will work best, but in the end you’ll see you produce less waste, use less resources and save money.”

Yukon Soaps Company at the recent Etsy Market in Whitehorse. (Joella Hogan)

 

Look for The Yukon Soaps Company at local markets and various locations throughout Yukon. You can also order Joella’s products online at www.yukonsoaps.com.

 

 

Lea Pigage

Meet the biologist & business owner who sparked our Plastic Free July challenge.

Lea Pigage challenges the need for single use plastics. She began ditching plastic in 2017 for her first Plastic Free July challenge. Since then, she has tried to reduce her use of single-use plastics such as plastic bags, cups, cutlery, water bottles, and straws. What’s remarkable is how Lea has incorporated plastic-free and other zero waste practices into the varied facets of her life – as a biologist, businesses owner, and parent.

Lea and her husband own and operate Urban Caribou Bed and Breakfast in Whitehorse, where she uses simple practices to reduce waste while operating a successful business. These practices include sourcing cleaning and food products in bulk (then decanting into smaller containers) to reduce packaging, lining compost and waste bins with old newspaper, only washing towels upon request, and baking their own homemade bread for guests. Coffee is purchased in bulk using in 5 lb reusable bags from the Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters, mini bars of soap are bought in bulk from Yukon Soaps Co., and growlers are provided for guests to refill at local breweries. As much as possible, the preserves they serve are jams made from local berries and all of their bed and breakfast communication with guests is electronic so no paper waste is created.

For those trying to reduce waste, Pigage recommends “starting with things that are easy.” Take inventory of your behaviors, look at what is in your garbage bin, and then “challenge the normal.” She recommends beginning with something simple, like using reusable produce bags. “You can also look for opportunities to buy local, buy bulk, and tweak behaviors. Finding suppliers that share sustainable practices and are willing to accommodate package free options is also really helpful. Riverside Grocery now has a really great bulk section where you can bring your own containers to fill.”

For Pigage, the benefits to her business and community far outweigh any initial inconveniences. According to Pigage, her waste reducing practices are not only good for the environment but also connect her business to a “niche market that supports sustainable practices.” For Pigage it’s clear – “reducing waste is totally possible, if you take it one step at a time.”

To learn more about Lea Pigage and her B&B visit www.urbancaribou.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northwestel

Northwestel serves the largest operating area in the Western hemisphere and provides service to over 120,000 Canadians in Northern communities. So what motivates the largest communications company in the Yukon, and service provider for almost one third of Canada’s land mass to make their offices Zero Waste and create a comprehensive plan for reducing waste?

According to Northwestel, it’s all about their long-term commitment to Northern people and communities. This is the driving principle behind their focus on safety, respect for their customers and employees, and the minimization of their environmental footprint. This includes encouraging reduction, reuse, and recycling in all their activities.

Cables are collected for recycling in Northwestel’s compound (Photo Credit: Kevin Rumsey)

 

Northwestel’s parent company is Bell, Canada’s largest communications company. For years now, Bell has been a leader in corporate responsibility, including maintaining ISO 14001 Certification.

What’s that you ask?

ISO or, International Organization for Standardization, is an independent, non-governmental organization that publishes international standards for almost every industry. ISO 14001 is an internationally recognized standard that lays out requirements for an environmental management system (EMS).

“It’s about transparency, accountability, relevancy,” says Kevin Rumsey, Northwestel’s Manager of Environmental Stewardship. “It sets a standard for other businesses.”

The standard is also far reaching, encouraging better environmental performance of suppliers and accounting for all aspects of product management from supply chain through to end of life.

 

Northwestel’s Environmental Management System

 

As part of the Bell family, Northwestel is held to the same rigorous standards for environmental management. As a result, they have developed a meticulous environmental management system, one that Rumsey says is driven by comprehensive data management.

“There’s a quote, that what gets measured, gets managed. At Northwestel, everything is tracked and inventoried,” says Rumsey.

“Our EMS consists of over 70 annual reporting tasks, of which recycling is just one. This management plan tracks data for all aspects of the company’s environmental footprint, from the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) we emit, to what type of paper we use, which is FSC certified,” he explained.

What does this look like?

Environmental training is mandatory for many employees, and was completed by 392 employees in 2016.

In 2016, Northwestel diverted 670 kg of used oil, 237 kg of paints, 1640 kg of alkaline batteries, 274 kg of fluorescents, and 808 kg of absorbents, just to name a few.

They operate 8 solar-diesel hybrid power stations in remote northern sites, reducing GHG emissions, energy costs, and their dependence on fossil fuel as an energy source.

They collect and recover mobile phones and chargers, and in 2017 they diverted 19 tonnes of e-waste for recycling.

E-waste is put on pallets at Northwestel to be shipped south for recycling  (Photo Credit: Kevin Rumsey)

 

Zero Waste Offices

 

Northwestel’s environmental policy extends into their office spaces as well. Offices in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Fort Nelson have rolled out Zero Waste programs, and feedback from employees is positive. These programs include increased waste separation at the source and contracting for pickup of all recyclables including glass, paper, plastic, tin, aluminum, cardboard and organics.

Their compounds also separate out waste, wire, cardboard and plastic, resulting in their only having a small garbage bin they empty maybe once every three weeks. As much as they can, they are committed to keeping materials out of the landfill.

On top of that, all waste is weighed and tracked so their actions can be evaluated and improved upon.

Zero Waste recycling stations in Northwestel’s Whitehorse offices (Photo Credit: Kevin Rumsey)

 

Social Conscience

 

On top of their industry leading environmental policy, the company is also committed to social responsibility. With more than 500 employees across the North, they want to make Northern communities better places to live and work. As a result, there are many ways they are enhancing the quality of life for Northerners.

They have been operating a directory recycling program for 15 years. This program awards cash contributions to schools in Yukon, BC, NWT and Nunavut for collecting and recycling telephone directories. Over the course of the program, they have rewarded close to $250,000 to Northern schools and recycled over 190,000 phone books.

For information on the 2018 Directory Recycling program, visit nwtel.leafsolutions.ca.

Students from Takhini elementary recycling old phone books at Raven Recycling as part of Northwestel’s directory recycling program (Photo Credit: Raven Recycling)

 

They also support numerous community programs, youth initiatives, aboriginal community and culture programs, and are strong supporters of local mental health initiatives. Northwestel gives over half a million dollars annually to non-profit organizations across the North.

This social conscience, meticulous data management and implementation of a comprehensive environmental management system, has placed Northwestel at the forefront of corporate responsibility, and is setting an example for other businesses to learn from and hopefully, follow.

Learn more at www.nwtel.ca.

 

Lumel Studios

The moment you step into Lumel Studios you can tell this is not your run-of-the-mill glass blowing workshop. From the salvaged Land Rover and recycled wood picnic benches out front, the repurposed wooden beams throughout, or the stairway railings made of rebar left over from the concrete floor installation, the studio is overflowing with recycled and repurposed elements.

“I like that everything has a history. It voices what it was in the past,” says owner Luann Baker-Johnson, who set out to create a new and welcoming space that also incorporated reuse and sustainability.

“As a glass blower, we know we have a large footprint… So then how do you offset that in absolutely every way you possibly can? One of the ways we did that was to recycle, reuse and repurpose absolutely everything from the build.

The biggest challenge is people don’t realize what is garbage and what is recycling. There’s still some Yukoners who don’t realize what you can recycle, but that all comes with time.”

With careful planning and efficient use of building materials, Lumel managed to create a unique and beautiful studio while spending only 40 dollars on tipping fees at the landfill. Careful cutting of drywall, reusing old furniture and salvaging items from several different sources were some of the ways Lumel managed to create a space that exudes character and embraces the value of creative reuse.

Lumel’s waste reduction commitment didn’t stop after construction finished. In the studio, they work hard to recycle every piece of glass they can, minimize waste, sort glass for reuse, and sell used shards to the public. They have many pieces on display made of 100% recycled glass and have also created new pieces from the shards of items that were broken during the earthquake in May. They are even working on repurposing several depression-era glass pieces that were broken in the quake, hoping to bring a 21st century touch to antique glass.

They even ship their glass in salvaged styrofoam and plastic wrap, proudly displaying on each package the fact that they are shipping Yukon’s waste south to their customers.

“We’re very proud of the fact that we’re packing pristine glass in a reused product… It gets everything there so why wouldn’t we?” says Baker-Johnson.

In this way, Lumel is helping to break down the stigma surrounding used goods. They are showcasing the value of recycled material and saving money doing it.

Lumel is not only a leader in sustainability, they also pride themselves on having a strong social conscience. Baker-Johnson learned to blow glass after a family tragedy, and extolls the healing properties of working with such a medium.

“Ceramics is my comfort, working with clay is quite comforting, and glass is the struggle. And I think in life and for healing you need both. Glass has been a healer for me…it takes your whole focus and there’s nothing else in your head.

“I thought it was important…because we can’t change [people’s] history but we can take them away from absolutely everything for a few moments on our bench.”

Lumel regularly holds workshops and demonstrations for street people, disenfranchised youth and the elderly, and has gained the label ‘The Happiness Factory.’ In this way they’ve created a space built on the values of diversity and inclusion, as well as sustainability. They work with animal and human ashes, creating unique pieces to commemorate customer’s loved ones. They have surrounded their studio with a community garden that hosts berries, vegetables and herbs. They also support Habitat for Humanity by creating unique glass pieces for each home built for Yukon families.

Lumel has two main short term goals for the future. First, to build a portable recycled glass blowing studio they can bring to every community in the Yukon. They also want to develop the other half of their lot into a recycled glass blowing studio. Baker-Johnson estimates the new studio could start out using 2000 – 3000 pounds of recycled glass a month and she hopes that one day they will be shipping recycled pieces such as glass bricks out of the Yukon as a commodity.

It’s easy to see why Lumel has been successful. They have thrived as a diverse and inclusive community studio. Furthermore, they are a glowing example to other businesses of how the shift towards Zero Waste can be undertaken creatively and successfully.

Lumel Studios is located at 101 Keish Street, Whitehorse, Yukon. Contact 867-633-2308 or visit www.lumelstudios.com for more information.

  

Changing Gear

Changing Gear has been helping people reuse sporting goods since they opened in August of 2016. Patrick Jackson, the owner of Changing Gear, first had the idea for the business 15 years ago. He recognized that the Yukon is a very active place with “lots of good gear that should be reused.” But it wasn’t until two years ago that he began researching how to bring his ideas to life.

Today, anyone can consign and purchase gently used sporting goods at Changing Gear. “The support from day one has been wonderful” says Patrick. For many, consignment is not strictly about earning money, they’re also “delighted that something potentially finds a home.”

Changing Gear encourages zero waste by helping to create positive attitudes about second hand goods. “If the gear people see is always in a pile or not cared for it has no attraction but put in the right spotlight and made presentable it is perfectly acceptable.”

Recently, Changing Gear has expanded their business to include regular Flea Markets throughout the summer and fall. With the closing of the Salvation Army in April of 2017, Patrick saw an opportunity “to give people a chance to sell or move along goods rather than throw it away.”

The Humane Society, a partner in the Whitehorse Flea Markets, will be accepting donations for the markets.

Changing Gear is located at 91810 Alaska Hwy.