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,


Clayton Peacock

Clay Peacock in front of a pile of cured compost, ready for use. (Photo: Zero Waste Yukon)


If you’re familiar with the City of Whitehorse’s compost program, you may know that it’s come a long way in the last 6 years. One of the main reasons for the program’s success is Clay, the compost lead hand at the Whitehorse Waste Management Facility. With food waste a key theme for Waste Reduction Week, we thought we’d highlight the unsung hero turning Whitehorse’s organic waste into compost “black gold.

“Things are going really well,” Clay tells me. “We’re breaking records every year.”

Most of that is large loads for gardeners and landscapers, but they have also been selling lots of bagged compost for smaller home gardens as well. It’s no surprise that the compost is popular, what could be better than getting a high quality product produced right in Whitehorse?

A close-up of the finished compost.


“You’d be hard pressed to find a better product in North America,” says Clay. “We take great pride in our work, and we’re constantly testing to ensure that what we produce is of the highest quality.”

There’s a reason why many refer to the compost produced here as “black gold.” The finished product is Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) certified for use in organic gardens & farms. They perform bio-assays every 50 cubic yards and test twice a year for hydrocarbons, herbicides and pesticides. The compost consistently has well over the required minimum 95% germination rate.

Clay says he’s disappointed to hear people mislabel the compost produced in Whitehorse as poor quality.

“Lots of what you buy in stores is produced in one place, but labelled in another, so it’s difficult to find out where the compost comes from or what’s in it. With our compost, you know exactly what you’re getting, a local product that’s supporting a local economy and not being shipped in or shipped out.”

Image result for whitehorse compostResidents can buy bagged compost from the Waste Management Facility, or arrange to buy bulk loads.


Clay’s passion for his work is evident, and it’s clear that this job has had a positive impact on his life. As we walk past the windrows, large piles in various stages of composting, he comments on the smell.

“That smell, that’s good compost. It makes me feel good. You can tell when things are going wrong or right, just by the smell.”

“I spent a lot of years in construction and mining, which can be really destructive industries,” Clay says. “Switching to this job was great, because I could still operate equipment, be outside, but now I’m giving back instead of taking away. I’ve helped transform this place, and it’s transformed me.”

“To be able to take something that people see as waste, and turn it into something they can use to grow food, to feed their families, is something really special. We’re taking over 40% of people’s waste and giving it back to them, what could be better than that?”

This is how items come into the facility, before they are piled into aerated windrows (Photo: Zero Waste Yukon)


The payoffs don’t come without a lot of hard work though. The Whitehorse compost facility is essentially run by two people. Particularly in the summer, when things are busier, they’re swamped trying to keep up with the workload.

“In some places, you might have a whole crew of people dedicated to just pulling garbage out of the compost,” he says. “If I had a crew of 7 people, this place would be like the Taj Mahal of compost!”

It’s two weeks of work to simply shift all the piles over, and with expansions planned for the compost facility, the team has been working even harder to get things ready.

A lot of local businesses are supportive of the City’s organics program, and working hard to ensure they’re composting properly. He points to Save-On-Foods as a good example. Since the beginning they’ve been taking their time, ensuring that plastics don’t end up in the organics bin. While others aren’t quite at that level, he says that slowly a lot of the stores are coming around. Fortunately, composting is now mandatory for the commercial sector, so the compost program will continue to grow.

Organics is the number one material landfilled in Whitehorse. This is a big problem, as landfilling organics creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas.


When I asked about contaminants in the compost system, Clay tells me that plastics are the number one. Plastic bags and cutlery are most common, and a lot of this material has to be filtered out of the finished product as it doesn’t compost.

“Biodegradable does not mean compostable,” stresses Clay. “Lots of these products are deceiving people, because they’ll say “made from plants” or “biodegradable” but they actually still contain plastic and won’t fully break down.”

He really encourages people to be aware of their purchases – certified compostable bags and cutlery will compost entirely in the system, but plastic bags and forks won’t.


Any compostable products you buy should have one of these two logos, confirming that the product has been tested for compostability.


“We still see tiny bits of plastic in the finished compost – that’s unavoidable. It’s not an issue for the compost quality, and there’s no danger of things leaching into your garden, the bigger concern is that with watering, the plastics rise, and either wash or blow away, into the sewers, into the river.”

It’s no surprise then that he brings his own bags to the grocery store. “When we forget our reusable bags, we’re carrying those groceries out in our arms,” he jokes.

Clay is unsure that a ban on plastics could happen, with the pressure of plastics industry influencing governments. “If it’s between doing the right thing and the dollars,” he says, “the dollars win out every time.” He isn’t wrong. There is tremendous industry influence on government action against plastics. In the United States, there are many states where the plastics industry has even successfully pushed for legislation which prohibits plastic bag bans.

A map of bag laws in the US shows the states with bag laws in place (blue) and states where these laws have been preempted with support of the plastics industry lobby (orange). (Photo:


Our discussion turns to recycling and the myth that by simply putting things in our blue bins we’re doing the right thing.

“We recycle because we grow up being told it’s the right thing to do, but when our plastics are being shipped away to be burned, how is that right? There are no easy solutions, but we need to be honest with what’s happening.”

He’s right that there are no easy solutions. The systemic change required to reduce our societal impact on the planet is complicated and at times, overwhelming.

“I don’t know the answers,” says Clay, “but I know this is a good system.”

Judging by my garden’s response to his compost, I’d say he’s right.



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 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!




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 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



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









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

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


Leslie Leong (Yukon)

Visual artist Leslie Leong’s work uses and is inspired by a wide variety of materials that may no longer be considered “useful” for their original purpose. These include computer parts, old maps, copper pipes and bits of Gold Rush-era glass, all turned into pieces of jewellery.

Leslie was originally inspired to create art from things that would otherwise be considered “waste” shortly after moving to Whitehorse in 2009. Her husband was trying to get rid of an old computer, and when he was unsuccessful in doing so, she and her son decided that they should take the opportunity to see what was inside it. She found the contents of it beautiful, particularly the pieces of motherboard with gold contact pieces, and decided to make herself a necklace with pieces of it, for which she received many compliments. She started making jewellery to sell in 2010, and continues to expand in terms of both the original materials and final products. Indeed, at the beginning of our conversation she showed me one of her more recent projects: earrings made from old guitar strings.

Her work is driven by her motivation to reduce the need for new materials by increasing the lifespan of products and materials that are already available. “We have so much stuff in the world; we don’t need new stuff, we should just use what we have now,” she says, adding, “I hate that planned obsolescence thing…I want to un-planned-obsolescence things!” Her workroom is filled with items that already have a planned re-use, and others that she has picked up but isn’t quite sure yet what she’s going to do with them. “I’ve got all sorts of things that I just need to find a use for, but I like them!” she says, pointing out for example a number of old mirrors lying against one wall. Those she might attach to old silver trays, giving them new life with a different, old-timey style.

In addition to making jewellery, Leslie has also been introducing young people to the potentials of material re-purposing. She has done art programs in schools, and this summer has been an instructor at a camp put on by Arts Underground to make art from recycled materials. She’s interested in spreading the idea that many materials don’t need to go straight to the recycling or garbage bin when they’ve been used once. “I don’t think people realize how useful the materials are that we have right in front of us,” she says, before rummaging through her workspace to show me one more item that she’s found a new life for.

More examples of Leslie’s work can be found at

Kate White

Kate White and the City of Whitehorse Mini-Carts Program

In the spring of 2014, the City of Whitehorse put out a call for participants in their “mini-cart” waste reduction pilot program. Kate White, MLA for Takhini-Kopper King  saw the ad and put her hand up to take steps towards minimizing her waste.

The City of Whitehorse launched the small cart trial as these carts are easier to move, easier to store and help shift behaviour with regards to waste management by emphasizing the smaller capacity for landfill and the larger capacity for compost.

Kate’s full-sized black curbside garbage cart was replaced with one that has about half the volume of the original, which she continues to use to this day. Kate still has a full-sized compost cart, and recycles everything she possibly can. This means that even after two weeks, her garbage is still not full; and the contents of the garbage is mostly dog poop, which cannot be composted at the City’s facility.

If you are interested in getting your large cart swapped out for a mini-cart, please contact the City of Whitehorse at 668-8312.