North Star Mini Storage (Whitehorse)

North Star Mini Storage operates 4 storage facilities around Whitehorse and has more than 1000 tenants. That means that they have a lot of things in their storage units at all times. Unsurprisingly, over time much of that stuff ends up needing somewhere else to go, either because owners take on the job of downsizing, or abandon the unit altogether.

Lara Rae, who manages North Star, realized a couple of years ago that it would make sense if the company was directly involved in helping get rid of that stuff, with as much diversion as possible. To do that, last summer she worked with Zero Waste Yukon to hold their first community garage sale, where people could open up their storage units and sell items directly on site. They have also invited people living in condos and apartments to join and store their items in the week ahead of the sale date.

North Star is also one of the main partners behind the highly successful Indoor Community Garage Sale held at the Canada Games Centre the last two February’s.

Though the garage sales have been successful so far, they still end up with a lot of items left over. For that reason, the company is always trying to find other people who would like to take some of their items off their hands, particularly things like furniture.

When asked about her reasons for doing this, Lara says simply, “it just makes sense!” She adds that North Star is always informing customers of their options for diverting items for disposal, and that it also has a financial incentive since they can help reduce fees for disposal at the landfill.

Alpine Bakery (Whitehorse)

Alpine Bakery has been diverting waste and reducing its environmental impact for 21 years – as long as it’s been in its current building at 5th and Alexander street in downtown Whitehorse.

Composting at Alpine Bakery began before the city even began its residential curbside compost pickup, with the help of local farmers who would take it away to be turned into food for their plants. Currently that farmer is Michael Bellan, and owner Suat Tuzlak says that “it’s a real community effort – I couldn’t do it myself.”

Recycling is also a regular part of the bakery’s operations, with a van that was “purchased” in exchange for bread and is used to take things for drop of about once a week. Additionally, they are extremely careful about reducing as much as possible the amount of waste that customers take away with them and their products.

Their café uses real dishware for patrons eating in-house, and when Suat gave this writer a plastic container full of soup to take at the end of the interview, he encouraged that it be returned when finished.

Alpine is also extremely conscientious about waste and other environmental impact on the input side of its operations as well. Cleaning supplies and things like toilet paper are all post-consumer recycled (where applicable) and biodegradable. Alpine grows its own herbs in a backyard garden, and buys other ingredients locally when possible, thus reducing produce packaging and transportation, and supporting the local economy. Energy consumption is minimized, including practices such as hanging all laundry to dry instead of using a dryer, which is one of the most energy- intensive appliances. Indeed, when their current building was first being constructed the bakery explored using renewable energy such as wind to power much of their operations, but due to liability concerns it was never implemented.

For Suat, these decisions are not simply a desire to engage in corporate responsibility, or be able to take on a “green” label. It is a political choice, and a form of resistance to what Suat sees as a concerning trend of large multinational corporations being able to use large amounts of energy and produce large amounts of waste in their production. He articulates his desire to see greater enforcement of environmentally responsible practices, in the form of things like better education about alternative methods, and taxes to incentivize their use. “Gently at first,” he says, “and then enforcement. We need to show the real costs of production, and show that the current methods in most places just aren’t actually viable.”

Canadian Tire (Whitehorse)

Over the past 8 years, since moving into their new location at the bottom of 2 Mile Hill, Canadian Tire has been working hard to reduce the amount of product packaging and other waste that ends up in the garbage dumpster. Cardboard makes up a sizeable amount of the business’s waste product, and General Manager Dwayne Lesiuk estimates that they’re currently able to recycle about 99.5% of it. For the first three months of this past year, that added up to 3 million pounds. Two years ago, they also made an agreement with Raven Recycling that the recycling processor takes all of their waste metals and plastics, and that has reduced their garbage output significantly. Previously, they were producing enough garbage for there to be two 6-yard bins going to the landfill, 6 days a week, and another bin going 3 days a week. Since beginning their plastic and metal recycling, they’re only sending a single bin, 6 days a week, and Dwayne estimates that over all in the last two years they’ve cut their waste by 75%.

The most recent project has been to divert their organic waste, and in the last couple months Canadian Tire has become part of the pilot project for businesses to have their compost picked up by the City of Whitehorse. They’ve only had 3 pick-ups so far, but Dwayne says it’s already making a difference. That being said, he admits that more education is needed to really change the culture among the staff, in order to make diversion part of the regular routine. However, with that in place the only remaining items that don’t have an easy diversion path are wood waste and broken glass – though most wood waste in the form of broken pallets is put out behind the building for customers to pick up and use as scrap wood or kindling.

The motivation for Canadian Tire to increase its diversion comes from both the national and local levels. Nationally, the business is trying to increase environmental awareness and is stocking more “green” products of one kind or another. Along with that, Dwayne credits the local owner of Whitehorse’s Canadian Tire, who wants to see the store be a leader in corporate responsibility. When asked about whether he sees other businesses taking action to reduce waste, he notes that it seems to be the locally-owned businesses that are taking some of the most visible action toward Zero Waste. “Local owners also live here,” he points out, “they care about what can be done here in Whitehorse because they see it directly, and want to keep this place clean.” Not only that, but waste reduction has big financial incentives to go along with it – last year Canadian Tire saved about $15,000 on garbage hauling and landfill tipping fees.

Northerm (Yukon)

When making a move to their new building, Northerm shifted not only their location, but their approach to waste  They made some changes on their own, then hired someone to do an environmental audit, identifying how the company could maximize reuse or recycling of materials otherwise being sent to the landfill.  The zerowaste principles that they have put in place have since reduced their waste by two thirds, while cutting their waste management costs in half!

Packaging and Shipping

The most fragile material that Northerm uses is glass, which it ships up to Whitehorse for processing.  Northerm makes a point of repurposing or recycling all of the materials they receive with the glass as packaging.

For example, cardboard that was used to transport the raw materials is provided to local customers for their use when transporting windows home.  What cardboard isn’t reused is diverted from the landfill for recycling.

Styrofoam is also reused when Northerm ships products to its customers throughout the north. As of March, Northerm has been sending their extra Styrofoam to Raven Recycling so that it can be compacted by their new machine and sent south for recycling.

Styrofoam is also reused when Northerm ships products to its customers throughout the north. As of March, Northerm has been sending their extra Styrofoam to Raven Recycling so that it can be compacted by their new machine and sent south for recycling.

Good, square wooden pallets are kept in the warehouse for re-use.

The remainder of the wood shipped up with their raw materials ends up in a bin rented from PNW, who picks it up monthly and brings it to someone that burns it for heat. The company is currently looking into the possibility of eventually heating their building with this “waste” wood. These practices not only reduce the demand for wood or heating fuel, but they also help keep organic material out of the landfill, reducing the amount of toxic leacheate that it unintentionally produces.

Production

Northerm watches its waste production as well as its bottom line by minimizing waste of their raw materials in the first place.  Each material is processed in a way that maximizes its use for producing the company’s signature products.

Glass

One of their biggest steps involved separating glass out of their waste stream.  Glass, with its high shipping costs and currently low market value is difficult to divert from the landfill.  Fortunately, glass poses few hazards when processed into a manageable form, such as sand or clean fill.  Northerm is currently investigating the possibility of crushing their own glass to the size that will be useful for covering waste being buried in the landfill.  This solution is  much preferred to mixing it with other unsorted material brought to the landfill.  Northerm is already sorting its glass out of the wastestream.   They are currently looking into whether they can justify the purchase of their own glass-crushing machine to avoid  the tipping fees of $87/tonne they must pay if they send their glass to the dump.

Plastics

The leftover pieces of PVC used in window construction were being sent to the landfill until a few years ago they contacted the supplier on recycling this product. Northerm is now sending the leftover material back to the company they purchased it from and are receiving a credit for doing so.  The material is then remelted and formed into new material that is sent back up for making windows.  On the day we visited, Northerm had just shipped out a 30 foot tractor trailor full of PVC cutoffs.

Northerm has also found some creative ways to repurpose some of the materials kicking around the shop.  When making doors, using a router in the shop, they will cut out holes customized for windows that clients have requested.

These cut-outs are saved from doors where metal can be separated from the insulation.  People can use the door cutouts for skirting their campers or trailers.  For doors where the metal can be separated from the insulation, Northerm saves the insulation for people requesting it and sends the metal for recycling.  Though recycling the metal doesn’t always yield a financial return due to fluctuating market prices, separating it out avoids the need to pay tipping fees for bringing the material to the landfill, not to mention helps keep the material in production.  Additionally, the remaining material can also be used to insulate sheds and other things.  Northerm saves this material for people who call them from time to time.

Metals

Staff at Northerm also don’t forget to have fun.  Money from refundables as well as aluminum that they stockpile goes into their social fund for staff pizza parties.  By returning cutoffs from the aluminum-framed screen doors they produce, they recently got 30 cents a pound and so $400 went into their social fund.

Mitch Meda, the environmental steward for Northerm couldn’t highlight enough the value of having good advice from their environmental auditor, making a plan and being patient. Knowing what can be diverted and working with staff to make diversion as easy as possible during day-to-day routines helped the process immensely.

Mitch also highlighted that their zerowaste efforts aren’t a one-off event, they’re a part of the everyday operation, which has also helped to make them successful.

When looking to the future, Mitch says ‘everybody everywhere is going to have to do this. Every community is going to have some form of strategic waste action plan. Congratulations to Northerm for leading the way!

Independent Grocer (Whitehorse)

Almost two years ago, Mark Wykes made a big change in the way Independent Grocer approached its waste.  A number of factors brought his attention to the grocery store’s waste strategy.  Facing challenges with their garbage pickup, Mark knew they could be doing things more economically.  Mark also recognized that this was an opportunity to improve the store’s practices.  Having been approached by Whitehorse’s two recyclers, he knew that much of the store’s garbage didn’t need to go to waste .

Today, equipment previously used for landfill-bound garbage is now dedicated exclusively to recycling cardboard, which in itself diverts almost half of the store’s waste for recycling.  Plastic is also sorted and kept in fiber bags for recycling by P&M.

As a grocery store, Extra Foods needs to deal with waste resulting from damaged and unsold food products.  Mark is looking forward to piloting an organic pickup from the city.  However, Independent has already made arrangements that recognize the value of many of their unsold food items:  Food with damaged packaging is currently donated to the local food bank.  Veggie scraps are provided to local pig and chicken farmers, recycling food “waste” into locally generated food.  Mark is now working with Loblaws to figure out safe ways to salvage other foods, like meat, that have just hit their ‘best-before-date’.

When we visited, Mark had just gotten off the phone with P&M recyclers, arranging to divert Styrofoam that will be brought to Raven Recycling and processed by Whitehorse’s new Styrofoam compressing machine.

When asked about advice for other businesses, Mark says “It’s probably a lot easier than you think it’s going to be.  Businesses will find that their staff want to do this stuff.  They care about it.”  Running an operation located in an old building with limited space, he notes the changes they’ve made haven’t been as hard as he had anticipated. By evaluating the options out there, and working with local recyclers keen to make it work, the grocery store managed to put aside a bit of space and create a new system that is working well for them. “If we could do it, probably anyone can”, says Mark.

Morrison Hershfield

A month ago the team at Morrison Hershfield in Whitehorse decided to try to make their workplace a “zero waste office.”  The attached photo shows the total amount of waste their office produced last month – these are items they could not find a way to recycle.

As Forest Pearson shared “we are a professional consulting office with just 5 people, so it is pretty easy for us to do this.  But clearly we can do better: we need to work a bit harder on remembering to bring our re-usable coffee cups (which every one of us has).  Also I’ve been encouraging people to consider buying snacks that don’t have that foil-composite packaging (I always knew chocolate bars were bad!).”

They are well on their way to being a “zero waste office” and are pretty proud of the team’s efforts so far.