As a tenant of a municipal building, Erinn Lockard knows her landlord would like her to look at alternatives to single-use plastics.
She’s already on it.
The owner of Sweets and Swirls Cafe at the community centre knows the Town is committed to reducing and eventually eliminating single-use plastics in municipal facilities, and that consultation with residents and businesses will follow.
As a business owner renting a municipal facility, she fits both categories and is more than willing to comply. She doesn’t need to be pushed. “We had already been looking at ways to reduce our plastic footprint. It’s the right thing to do,” she says.
She uses wooden instead of plastic stir sticks. Her take-out coffee cups are paper, but she also encourages people to bring their own travel mugs and charges a reduced price for their beverage when they do.
“What I don’t understand,” she says, holding up the plastic lid for the paper cup, “is why someone can’t figure out how to make the lid out of paper as well, so they can be thrown out together.”
She offers the use of a metal spoon to stir a beverage, uses ceramic mugs for those who don’t need a take-out cup, and when people are buying a drink to take to a meeting in the building, she encourages them to take one of her mugs.
She doesn’t offer a straw unless one is requested, and she encourages customers who ask for one to rethink whether it’s necessary.
When she has used up her current supply of plastic bags and styrofoam for take-aways, she plans to replace them with paper bags and cardboard containers.
She is also replacing the plastic cups she uses for cold drinks with paper ones.
The challenge at her cafe, and for any business owner, is the cost of alternatives, and the availability. She has begun to line up suppliers for re-usable or compostable options, but she’s come across some stumbling blocks, “sometimes because of the pricing, sometimes the availability. That’s not to say there aren’t alternatives out there, but not from the suppliers we use and are close by.”
For instance, she has found paper straws, plant-based straws, and even straw straws — made of hay. She has found cutlery in a plant-based plastic. “It looks like plastic but it’s compostable,” she says. Options have been hard to source locally, and not only are the items more expensive but could bring costly shipping charges, but she will make a choice of what’s best once current supplies run out.
That’s also where the Town’s at with its supplies for municipal buildings.
Since Coun. Norm Arsenault had a motion approved by council in May, he, parks and recreation manager Kevin Turcotte and other town staff have met to discuss a process and timeline for reducing and eventually eliminating single-use plastics in municipal facilities. He also hopes to see businesses encouraged to do the same, and while it was a plastic ban that spurred the discussion, it has also included methods to encourage the 3R strategy — reduce, reuse and recycle, both on town property and with the public.He is impressed and pleased with how much progress has already been made, he says, praising Turcotte’s commitment and leadership toward a greener town.
A report prepared earlier this month shows an inventory of plastics at town facilities, and alternative options to be used when those supplies need to be replaced.
The Town installed water bottle fill stations in 2017 at the community centre and the Centennial Arena lobby, which together have reduced the number of plastic bottles by more than 30,000.
“Plastic water bottles are really bad, the worst,” says Arsenault. They will look at more fill stations, but the cost is about $3,000 each, so that will likely have to wait for next year, to be included in the 2020 budget.
The Town also offered reusable water bottles to all staff; all town parks use compostable garbage bags and staff is looking to expand the program to all facilities; all town parks have recycling containers to divert plastics from landfills; reusable cutlery is available for staff in lunchrooms; and the corporate services department has eliminated personal garbage cans in offices to promote proper waste diversion and reduce the number of compostable bags used.
They are also discussing more recycling garbage bins on Queen Street, says Arsenault.
“There have been some pretty drastic changes already. Kevin really got on it quickly and is leading the movement. He’s doing a great job.”
Arsenault has talked to a few local business owners, including Phil Leboudec at Valu-mart. He learned by charging just five cents for plastic grocery bags, “he went from using 20,000 to 3,500, a reduction of 82 per cent almost overnight. That’s how powerful such a small thing can be. I’d like to encourage other businesses to do the same — not just the grocery stores, but clothing stores, anybody who uses plastic bags. It’s so easy to do. There are alternatives, such as reusable bags, which can change the usage of plastic drastically.”
The provincial and federal governments are looking at legislation to eliminate single-use plastics, and will likely come up with something more comprehensive, says Arsenault, “but we’re making a start. We’re already thinking of alternatives, and making things happen. People are becoming really involved in the movement, and it’s good to see them talking and changing their behaviour. It’s a positive step. Nothing happens overnight, but a lot has happened in a very short time.”