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Banff restaurants, municipality back reusable container pilot by local student

“We have an opportunity to show the world that we do things differently in Banff and that we're getting on board with these types of solutions."

BANFF – Several Banff restaurants and the municipal government are supporting a reusable container pilot program launched by a local student.

Banff Isn’t Disposable (BID), is spearheaded by Luna Kawano, a Banff local, as part of an eight-month capstone design project at the University of Waterloo. Its objective is to reduce single-use container waste and validate a long-term reusable strategy for Banff.

“It's the type of program that the Town of Banff really wants to see happening, but we don't necessarily have the resources to be taking the lead on it right now because of other priorities,” said Carla Bitz, the Town of Banff's environmental coordinator for resource recovery. 

Kawano’s initial idea for the program began from her experiences as a Banff local, understanding the exceptional and indispensable nature of the town’s surrounding environment. Kawano is studying within the Department of Knowledge Integration, as part of the university’s Faculty of Environment.

BID’s pilot program received financial support from the Town, and Kawano has additionally collected $1,000 from the University of Waterloo’s Ki Experience Award, funded by the Lewitt Family Foundation. Committed businesses will finance a small percentage of the program.

“I wanted to answer the question of how to accelerate environmental action within communities,” said Kawano.

“I think this question is really important to ask and answer because one of the biggest barriers standing in the way of solving the climate crisis is that gap that exists between knowledge and action.”

So far, four Banff businesses have officially supported the pilot program: Wild Flour Bakery, Nourish Bistro, Pacini, and Chili’s Grill & Bar. Kawano is pursuing support from a fifth food and hospitality business before launching the pilot program and hopes for support from even more.

“We’re anxious and excited about it,” said Emily Benedet, restaurant manager at Nourish Bistro, a Banff vegetarian and vegan restaurant. “We think it’s a great approach to utilizing alternate measures rather than disposable takeout containers.

“Even when we have customers ordering takeaway, we won’t include napkins and cutlery unless they ask for them because we don’t want to contribute to wastefulness. The majority of our customers are a little more aware than most, only because they’ve taken an ethical approach to how they consume their food.”

An official launch date has not been announced, but Kawano has set a goal to launch in early May when BID would begin ordering containers to meet restaurant demands.

Containers can be purchased for a single deposit fee of $5 and can be returned and cleaned at any registered business.

The containers are made of polypropylene plastic. Although there is some resistance to plastics, Kawano noted the root of the issue regarding plastic pollution is not the material itself, but our relationship to it.

“It might seem a bit strange [to use] plastic, but there are a lot of reasons why,” she said. 

The impact of plastic containers is marginally larger than single-use ones on initial production, but is less after accounting for seven to 15 uses.

Kawano’s research illustrates the cost-saving element for businesses. If single-use takeaway containers cost an average of 20 cents and just 10 customers used a reusable container every day for a year, businesses could save about $570 per year, accounting for cleaning and replacements costs. The more people using reusable containers, the more the businesses save.

“Globally, plastic production has increased 20 times in the past 20 years, and 50 per cent is made for single-use,” a post on the BID Facebook page states.

The pilot program is seeking volunteers and has so far seen interest from 50 residents and workers.

“People are wanting to see this kind of change and are itching to help,” said Kawano.

“We're looking for people who could potentially spearhead this effort in the long run, people who really care about this and are in the community currently.”

Seamus O’Farrell, a Banff local and BID volunteer, provided a written statement with his thoughts on the program’s relevance to his hometown.

“[G]rowing up in Banff I think it's been cool seeing it become a hotspot. However, I think as our town grows it will become increasingly important that we look at tourism and hospitality in a sustainable way. The whole reason why people are coming is because Banff is such a beautiful place.

“Businesses have a very potent potential to start changing the way we think about things. Whether it's social, political, or environmental issues, it is more important than ever that business exercise leadership in tackling our contemporary problems,” added O’Farrell.

“There can be this reluctance to try and better things when challenges we face feel insurmountable. By fostering engagement in the community, I think it shows that people really do have a say in our future.”

Promotion and visibility of the program is a key factor in encouraging residents who frequent restaurants and purchase takeout meals. The same approach, however, may not be as popular with visitors.

“We’re quietly confident if more people join on to it, the more of a norm it will become. But we’re not sure how it will go with the further afield crowd,” said Phillip Doherty, general manager with Pacini’s restaurant.

“With people coming in from Calgary and Edmonton, it depends if it was catching on in the cities. We’re going to trial it anyway and hope for the best.”

Kawano also addressed safety concerns of utilizing reusable containers during the pandemic by researching and referencing health expert statements.

“I was really impressed by how much research Luna has done to think through in advance the types of questions that businesses would have, especially in the context of the pandemic,” said Bitz.

The program is considered under the umbrella of Town of Banff’s Zero Waste Trailblazer program, which commends local businesses and individuals who take initiative to reduce waste and promote awareness for ethical consumption.

“We've added it into our scorecard for the Trailblazer program that businesses get a point if they're participating in a reuse program. If that becomes a formalized program going forward, it will be something businesses get extra credit with the Town for doing.”

At least 65 per cent of Banff’s landfill waste is derived from the commercial sector and almost half of that waste is food.

“Food waste is honestly a bigger issue,” said Kawano. “It has a much bigger carbon footprint.”

The Town has set a milestone goal of 70 per cent waste diversion by 2028 and to do so, 1,500 metric tonnes of food waste needs to be diverted from going to landfills every year.

Bitz said  while disposable single-use containers don’t represent a large tonnage of the Town’s landfill waste, they produce large volumes and are the most visible forms of waste visitors interact with in town.

Single-use items and plastics are often found contaminating local recycling streams, are prevalent in pedestrian bins, and can be found littering the townsite.

“We have an opportunity to show the world that we do things differently in Banff and that we're getting on board with these types of solutions,” said Bitz.



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Gabe Lunn

About the Author: Gabe Lunn

Gabe Lunn is a Banff native and reporter based in the Bow Valley. His interests have led him to produce coverage on local politics, environmental issues, arts and culture, among other topics.
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