If you ask Kyle Connick what he thinks of plastic, he won’t mince words.
“Plastic is awful,” says the packaging manager at Calgary’s Wild Rose Brewery.
After learning the City of Calgary’s waste processing facilities weren’t able to recycle the type of plastic that most beer ring carriers are made of, Connick went on a mission in 2019 to find an eco-friendly alternative.
When he started his search, things were looking bleak.
“It was rather disheartening because there wasn’t really a lot of good, operational substitutes for plastic can carriers, and it was kind of hard finding the correct material,” he said.
But that changed when he discovered the recyclable paperboard can carriers made by WestRock, a U.S. packaging company.
“I was pretty skeptical, to say the least. [But] they sent me some samples, and I was blown away that a sheet of paperboard … would actually hold cans together well.”
Since late April, Wild Rose has shifted all its can carrier packaging to the paperboard alternative.
Connick said the company is also trying to reduce its waste by diverting as much effluent as possible from the drain. So, ingredients they use like hops, yeast and fruits, which don’t actually end up in a beer can, don’t travel to water treatment centres.
Wild Rose joins other breweries taking on environmentally friendly initiatives, including companies as big as Coors Light, which announced earlier this year that it will use cardboard carriers for all its North American brands by the end of 2025.
Christina Seidel, executive director of the Recycling Council of Alberta, said it’s great to see local breweries like Wild Rose ditch traditional plastic ring carriers. However, she said there’s more than one alternative to them.
Some micro breweries in Alberta are opting for a harder plastic packaging that goes over top beer cans to hold them together. The advantage to that alternative is it can be returned to the brewery and reused, Seidel said.
According to Seidel, there would have to be an assessment to see what option is more sustainable — paperboard can carriers, or recyclable and reusable hard plastic — but the important thing is that businesses are moving in an eco-friendly direction.
“It is so awesome that companies are starting to take this kind of thing really seriously and they want to do the right thing. They want to make a difference,” she said.
If they haven’t started already, Canadian businesses will soon have to find more sustainable packaging options. The federal government announced in June an upcoming ban on some single-use plastics. The categories of plastics being banned include checkout bags, stir sticks, can carrier rings made of plastic, cutlery, takeout containers made with hard-to-recycle plastic and straws.
Like Wild Rose, other local businesses are already preparing alternative and eco-friendly packaging options ahead of the plastics ban.
‘A ton of garbage’
John MacInnes is the founder and president of Earthware, a Calgary-based company that makes zero waste, reusable takeout containers.
MacInnes launched the business late last year. He said the idea was sparked by all the takeout he and others were ordering in the early days of the pandemic.
“All of the people that I was working with just sort of had a feeling that maybe the containers that we were getting were not getting recycled,” he said.
“It just felt like a ton of garbage.”
The idea to make reusable takeout containers is not new, MacInnes said. In India, for example, there’s a delivery system where hundreds of thousands of meals are distributed to people every day in reusable metal boxes called tiffins.
After exploring a few options for materials, Earthware landed on polypropylene No. 5, a recyclable plastic, for its reusable takeout containers.
MacInnes said his company works with a plastics recycler in Vancouver to ensure the containers do not go in a landfill after they can no longer be used. He said each container can be washed and reused hundreds of times.
Earthware sells the containers to local restaurants, hotels and grocers. When people pick up their takeout from these businesses, they can either return the reusable container to one of the company’s drop-off bins throughout the city, or someone from Earthware can come pick it up.
According to MacInnes, about 60,000 takeout orders are made every night in Calgary. He hopes Earthware can help cut down the amount of plastic waste those takeout orders send to landfills.
So far, Earthware is serving just the Calgary area, but the business is looking to expand to Edmonton soon.
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Starting with the little things
MacInnes was excited when he heard of Ottawa’s upcoming single-use plastics ban. While he said there are certainly other plastics the government could target, he believes any move is a good one to reduce the amount of single-use takeout containers thrown in the trash.
“By banning these [single-use takeout containers], it creates a structural gap that can be filled with a reusable container service,” he said.
Shawn Kearns, owner of Greenbriar Market + Refillery in Calgary, agrees the federal government’s upcoming ban is a step in the right direction.
“We kind of take the approach that if you start with little things in your everyday life, it’s easier than trying to do everything all at once,” he said.
“But obviously there’s an environmental impact that we really have to pay attention to and maybe move a little quicker than the government is.”
Kearns and his husband, Mathew, founded Greenbriar during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a retail store in Montgomery that sells eco-friendly products. Customers can bring in their own jars or bottles to refill on goods like mouthwash and body lotion at the store.
One of Kearns’s biggest recommendations for people looking to reduce their plastic waste is to first use up what they have at home.
“Don’t go home and throw out everything that you already have,” he said.
“If you have an old Windex bottle, you can bring that in and get that filled with a cleaner from us.… When you’re out of your shampoo, come and buy a shampoo bar.”
As for Connick, he says he does his part for the environment by recycling and composting, but he hopes he can make a bigger impact with his role at Wild Rose.
“If there is a way for me to even do something small, even at the Wild Rose scale, that can, I don’t know, somehow give the planet an extra couple of years … that would [be] my little contribution.”
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