A new year offers the opportunity to pause and reflect. While I think we can all agree that 2020 would take more than one blog post to unpack, we want to narrow our focus to reflecting and celebrating our circular economy leaders in Canada. If you need a refresher, the circular economy is an alternative to our current linear ‘take-make-waste’ economy where instead of disposing of an item after one use, products and materials are kept in use indefinitely. This transition offers massive economic, social and environmental green recovery opportunities for Canada.
It is worth noting when recognizing these leaders that 2020 was an extremely difficult year for zero waste and circular economy progress. The pandemic forced a lot of setbacks – reusable programs went on pause, disposable PPE found its way into our environment at unprecedented rates and many small businesses were unable to survive. Despite this, the work to create a circular economy in Canada continued and we think those leading the way deserve a very big thank you!
Brianne Miller & Alison Carr – Co-Founders of Nada
Brianne and Alison at Nada, credit: Nada
Nada is a package-free grocery store on a mission to connect people to just food. Their purpose is not only to eliminate waste but also to contribute to their community which they do through frequently giving back and taking a strong stance on social issues. Brianne realized she needed to do something to combat the massive amounts of plastic waste she was exposed to as a marine biologist. She and Alison teamed up to bring zero-waste shopping to Vancouverites and have been succeeding since the opening of their retail location in 2018.
The pandemic has forced their business model to morph and evolve throughout the year. They are currently serving customers through online ordering and an express grab program that allows you to drop by for pickups of less than five items. We are inspired by Brianne and Alison for their pioneering entrepreneurship and are excited to see more retailers adopt their zero-waste practices.
Felix Bӧck – Founder & CEO of ChopValue
Felix with ChopValue materials, credit: ChopValue
Felix Bӧck got the idea for his circular chopstick scheme from his girlfriend when they were eating sushi one night. He had been studying for a Ph.D. in structural bamboo products in Vancouver and trying to tackle urban wood waste but realized that he maybe had to start somewhere a bit smaller. What began with a simple idea, has resulted in 32 million (and counting) chopsticks being upcycled into high-value homeware and decor such as desks, coasters, and even charcuterie boards. Felix is expanding through a franchise and micro-factory approach which supports local economies while reducing waste across Canada and the United States. ChopValue products can now be found at major retailers like Nordstrom, Simons and Inspiration Furniture. It is uplifting to see Felix share his zero-waste idea with the world - one california roll and chopstick at a time.
Adam Corneil – CEO & Founder of Unbuilders
Adam outside of a unbuilders project site. Credit: Chung Chow
Adam is changing the construction industry with each new deconstruction project. Unbuilders deconstructs buildings rather than demolishing them to salvage a majority of the wood and materials that would otherwise be lost and sent to be burned for energy or to the landfill. Many older Vancouver and Victoria area homes were built using old-growth lumber that is lost forever when conventional demolition methods are used. His team has been able to achieve a 99% salvage and recycle rate at times, which is monumental considering that in Canada, the construction, renovation and demolition industry generates about 3.4 million tonnes of waste annually. This past fall, Unbuilders secured a $600,000 investment on Dragon’s Den in a sweeping deal from all six investors. The expansion of their work will save valuable materials and catalyze a circular transformation in the industry. We applaud Adam and his team for creating this shift!
Grace Kennedy – Founder & General Manager of Livlite
Grace is a mom on a mission to make zero-waste grocery shopping easy and accessible for all. Livlite is a grocery delivery that uses returnable glass jars and compostable paper bags instead of mainstream single-use packaging options. Grace started Livlite because she was looking to reduce her environmental impact but found low-waste shopping impractical with a young child. The launch of Livlite was set for last March but restrictions around reuse due to COVID-19 uncertainties delayed their start until May.
They are now offering a range of groceries and household products throughout Vancouver and plan to expand throughout the Lower Mainland in the future. She told the Vancouver Sun, “doing something around environmentalism is really purposeful for me because it’s not just the future of my son, it’s trying to inspire different ways of consuming that don’t adversely impact other parts of the world.” Grace is a leader for creating a service that not only benefits her family but her community and the environment as well.
These five trailblazers are only a small portion of the committed circular economy changemakers across the country. The transition from a linear to circular economy will involve every Canadian - whether that be through entrepreneurship, consumer habits or active citizenship, we all have a part that we can play. We are looking forward to watching these businesses thrive in 2021 and seeing Canadians lead in the creation of a waste-free future.