Recycling | Young Innovators in Waste Reduction

By Mary Forbes –

Oliver Berger and I just returned from the Recycling Council of Alberta conference at the Chateau Lake Louise. I love my job but some days the perks just blow my mind. We were invited to attend and present on the amazing and inspiring Waste Wise projects and activities of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society and The Potato House, all local programs that happen right here in Williams Lake. Our presentation was on the first day and was warmly received, although everyone there had to be repeatedly reminded that Oliver and I are not married—I am married with two kids; he is single. We just work together a lot and get along great. On the final evening of the conference we attended the gala costume contest dressed as spawning salmon and gave “salmon hugs” to everyone. If you have never been hugged on both sides by two gigantic, enthusiastic, plush, full bodied salmon, you are missing out. The conference was fun and inspiring with my key take away being the incredible innovations of young millennials in the waste reduction sector. The motto was: “Experiment-Fail-Learn-Try Again-Fail Harder-Learn More-Do Better-Learn-Keep Going.”

Who knew Lake Louise had salmon? Photo: Sion Lanini

Here are some highlights:

Waste Problem/Opportunity: Microbrewery spent grains are too wet for agricultural applications; they freeze in the winter and mould in summer. Breweries produce thousands of tonnes of microbrewery spent grains each year.

Solution – Ceres Solutions: Ceres Solutions is an innovative and environmentally focused company that up-cycles waste products from the beer brewing process into gourmet mushrooms and livestock feed. They take brewery mash, stuff in it a cheese cloth sack, and grow oyster mushrooms. In the wild, these mushrooms take two years to mature; in brewery mash, they mature in 13 days. The mycelium of the mushrooms increases the protein content of the waste grain product by 20–35 per cent. They then dry and sell the secondary improved spent grain product as agricultural feed stock. “You are what you eat, eats.”

Waste Problem/Opportunity: Four million coffee cups go to the landfill every day in Canada.

Solution – Green Cup: Ozzy Langa, self-proclaimed “professional hippy” and Green Cup’s creator, printed advertising directly on compostable coffee cups and marketed them to colleges and schools for free. All production costs were paid for by advertising. Ozzy then watched people throw the cups into the garbage, instead of composting them. He noticed he did not create a solution and had to rethink his strategy. He noted, “Sometimes your baby is just not beautiful.”

Inspired by this experience, Ozzy used his incredible storytelling skills to create enjoyment and engagement for employees of major corporations, encouraging their own story-making experiences. He created a “Mr. Miyagi effect”—engagement activities that make a difference towards how people feel, resulting in being more connected to the community. The increased employee happiness creates a systematic change of life learning and encourages sharing life changing experiences with others. “It’s one thing to preach it, and another to teach it.”

Waste Problem/Opportunity: Slimy, dirty compost buckets are a turn-off for first-time composters (and long-time ones, too, honestly)

Solution – Green Lid Enviro Sciences: With Green Lid Enviro Services, a compostable kitchen catcher made from end-of-life cardboard pulp replaces plastic kitchen catchers. This business is a success story from Dragon’s Den. You may have seen the starter packs being sold here in Williams Lake at Canadian Tire. It comes with a recyclable green plastic lid you reuse. The program is called “Training Wheels for New Composters.” You can also reuse the bucket many times if you aren’t averse to the yuck factor. The bucket won’t break down until it is exposed to composting bacteria. Did your brain just go, “wait a second … how did they waterproof the cardboard? Is it just infused with plastic?” Nope. Morgan, from Green Lid, has a PhD in chemistry. It’s a patented complex fatty acid combination. Morgan and his brother Jackson are the brains behind this amazing product and are building bigger bins for schools right now. They even have an education module for K-3 where kids can colour on the bin and take it home and “feed it” (they draw sharks, animals, or monster mouth pictures directly on the buckets). They are also in the final stages of patent approval for a biodegradable mosquito trap I could rave about for days. “People buy your product as much for the product as for what you do with it.”

There is a fine line where a conference becomes a vacation, especially when it is held at, arguably, the most beautiful place on earth. It is hard to justify to funders the benefits of conferences, but I can say I come back flying on ideas, inspiration, and connections to which the internet just doesn’t do justice. I am endlessly indebted to the Recycling Council of Alberta for inviting Oliver and myself to present and we are thrilled that first prize for dressing like a salmon and hugging half the delegates is a free conference pass for next year. I am already counting the days.

Mary Forbes is an archaeologist turned waste educator for the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society and naturalist for Scout Island Nature Centre.

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