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Toronto the Green

July 19, 2011

Environmental impressions from a week in Canada’s largest city

Green Toronto skylineBefore moving to Toronto for the rest of the summer I was warned about the dangers of biking on its streets. I’d need a helmet and some luck, I was told.   And I’d heard plenty about newly elected Mayor Rob Ford’s lack of appetite for cyclists and their paths.

In fact, the week I arrived, bike paths were making headlines as city council decided to remove bike lanes on Jarvis street they had set up one year earlier.   The irony of the decision is that it will cost much more to remove the lanes than it did to install them. Reports say the removal will cost $200,000 while the original installation cost only $59,000.

Read more: http://www.forgetthebox.net/toronto-the-green/

“We’ve cut down to one a month, with the compost,” says Isabelle Moncion, proudly stating how many garbage bags she and her boyfriend are producing, thanks to Compost Montreal.  While many now take recycling for granted in Montreal, composting is still in its early stages.  More and more, however, people are taking responsibility for the waste they produce and this is precisely the market that entrepreneur Stephen McLeod and Compost Montreal have stepped in to serve.

“It’s quite a grey area as far as doing business goes.  It’s an environmental business and I don’t think there are a whole lot that are quite the same as we are,” says McLeod who started out in 2007 with a small-scale residential compost collection service powered by nothing more than a bicycle, a trailer, and a heavy duty garbage container.

McLeod had originally branched out as an entrepreneur in his previous field as a Montreal bike messenger, but quickly found that even an innovative approach was not enough to make it in the competitive bike messenger market.  He would need to try something else. “We composted when I was kid,” says McLeod. “It was just normal for me and certainly I always wanted to do something that was going to be, you know, helpful.”

Sitting in the meeting room of an apartment turned office space in Saint-Henri, conversation is briefly interrupted by the sound of a freight train rumbling by.  The goateed McLeod then turns in his chair to point out the areas on a Montreal map that his company has grown to serve, including Saint-Henri, the Plateau, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Rosemont, Outremont, Villeray, and Hochelaga.

Compost Montreal logo

Compost Montreal logo by Lucas Fehr (Lucworks), copyright Compost Montreal

“We just very recently celebrated our 1000th residential client,” says McLeod, which represents about 75 percent of the company’s business.  And that client base has been growing fast mainly by means of the company’s website and word-of-mouth.  “Within the second quarter of 2009 we were running about half the residential [clients] that we are now.”

At five dollars per week, this means Compost Montreal is taking in about $260,000 annually from the residential service.  The company also offers a slightly discounted $60 for a 13-week full season commitment. The remaining 25 percent of the business lies with commercial and institutional clients.  “We want to focus our efforts more on the diversification, developing the commercial, the institutional and then working with the cities as well to get more centralized plans of services up and running.”

McLeod didn’t really have a business strategy in the conventional sense when he started out.  “I sort of went pretty intuitively,” he says.  “A big advantage I had in being able to do that was that I didn’t really have any start up capital.”

“I think that’s a very valuable exercise, to start with nothing and see if you can actually generate something that’s going to allow you to arc and generate proper working capital,” says McLeod, “rather than starting with money from wherever and running the risk of messing up.”

Matthew Bruno, one of Compost Montreal’s eight employees is happy with the way the business is going. “I could not ask for a better job,” says Bruno. “Everyone here is easy going, enthusiastic, pretty knowledgeable and of course, super friendly.  The work is never the same and the company is still young so things are changing quickly and evolving nicely. We are all building this business together.”

At one garbage bag per month, customers like Isabelle Moncion must be feeling pretty good about themselves, and even though Compost Montreal isn’t selling it, that feeling may just be the most valuable product they offer.

Sound: Listen to Stephen McLeod tell us about his favourite part of the job and about just what happens after you put your compost bucket on the doorstep (hint: it starts with “s” and ends with “ustainability”), enjoy!

Thanks to Nick Ward for the interview sounds.

Even before spectators arrive at the gates of Uniprix Stadium for the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Montreal this week, they may already have become part of Tennis Canada’s ambitious green plan for 2010.  That’s because ticket-holders ride free of charge on the Société de Transport de Montréal’s (STM) network, which many spectators take advantage of to get to the big event.  Maryse Lemay, head of Tennis Canada’s green plan, says the site is also equipped with a special event Bixi bike station and a bicycle parking area.

These are all parts of the tournament’s green plan aimed at cutting transportation emissions and encouraging public and active transport.  Last year, nearly half of  the tournament’s 200,077 spectators used public transit at least once to get to the site.  “This year, Tennis Canada has committed to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions related to the air travel of players, in partnership with the Women’s Tennis Association,” says Lemay, “so both organizations will share the cost of carbon offsets for the air travel emissions.”

The green plan’s main objective, however, is waste reduction. “We’ve done some more focused awareness-raising in terms of waste reduction to encourage people to use the recycling bins and the composting bins more frequently,” says Lemay.  Though recycling has become a common feature of major events in Montreal, the Rogers Cup is one of the first to include composting for public use to help divert more waste from landfill, which began at the tournament in 2009.

four people and a mascot

Green team members and the triple bins at the Rogers Cup

Food vendors have been cooperative in purchasing a variety of mainly compostable food containers. “They’ve replaced all kinds of items like take-out platters that were difficult to recycle with corn-based compostable containers,” says Frédérik Bélanger of RCI Environment, the tournament’s waste management service.  “You’ll also find all plates, containers, and utensils are compostable, the wine glasses are recyclable, compostable fry and poutine platters, which mean that food providers are creating almost no waste that will go to landfill.”

“Last year we sent 47% of our waste to landfill and we were able to divert 53%,” says Lemay.  “This year we are trying to raise that level to 60% diverted from landfill.”  In order to achieve the waste reduction goal, the number recycling and composting bins has been increased all over the site and more signs dot the grounds at entrances, in bathrooms, near eating areas and on many of the bins themselves.  However, signs are conspicuously absent at concession stands where visitors could look at them while waiting in line and before they eat.

The tournament does have a team of volunteers helping to raise the public’s awareness of environmental issues and what Tennis Canada is doing, especially in terms of waste reduction and properly sorting waste at the source.  “So [green team volunteers] walk around the site on the patios and near the concession stands and advise people where to put their empty beer cup, in the recycling, because it’s a number 5 plastic, for example.”

Several other measures have been taken to raise awareness including humourous ads on the giant stadium screens encouraging composting and recycling, and ‘did you know?’ tips in the daily program.

2010 is the final year of Tennis Canada’s three-year green plan and in the fall the not-for-profit organization will be releasing a complete report on all its green plan activities and results.

Sound: Check out the sounds of the Rogers Cup and Tennis Canada’s green plan

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YPb0xRzwCA]

There’s nothing like taking a stroll through downtown and happening upon the stages of the Montreal International Jazz Fest.  You’re not sure what, but something drew you in this direction: the distant echo of open air music, the stream of relaxed people coming and going, and the concert lights, lending their glow to the summertime festivities.

The air is fresh and the backdrop of Montreal’s newly redone Quartier des Spectacles is bright and modern.  Set up in front of some rocking performers, what better than a cold beer to make the show all the more enjoyable.  And why not add a grilled sausage to put you in the right frame of mind.

But as you step away from the vendor stands you won’t get far without bumping into a ‘duo-bin’, the Jazz Fest’s sleek combination of recycling and garbage bin.  “Generally, each stand is set up next to a duo-bin,” says vendor Karim Guennoun. “It’s absolutely [part of the organization].”

The rounded green containers dot the festival landscape and signs at all entrances and around the grounds encourage revellers to make sure they recycle at all times and before they leave.

Yves Archambault's artwork for the 2010 Montreal Jazz Fest

Members of the Jazz Net team, equipped with broom and dustpan, are there to keep the site clean and collect the bags from filled duo-bins.  It’s the job of partner organization Consortium Écho-Logique to see to the details.

“We sort the recyclable materials and we try to minimize the amount of material that goes to landfill,” says Olivier Gariépy, a green team leader.  “We receive bags of recyclable materials and we start sorting immediately and put them in the proper containers, be it plastic-glass-metal or refundable cans and bottles.”  The team also deals with paper and carton.  In 2009 the festival diverted 61% of its waste from landfill, recycling 33,661 kg of plastic, glass, metal, carton, and wood.

And this year the Jazz Fest welcomes a new member to the green team: compost.  “It’s a pilot project,” says Alexis Lavoie-Bouchard, grounds supervisor for the festival. “But up to this point it’s been a clear success that will be carried forward in the years to come.”

The festival has purchased compostable utensils and plates for all its food vendors.  Food providers and the festival’s employee cafeteria also have their own compost bins so as to divert as much waste away from garbage bins and ultimately landfill.

The festival follows in the footsteps of other Montreal events like the annual Rogers Cup professional tennis tournament held in August which debuted on-site composting for the tournament-going public last year.

Gariépy, whose Consortium group works with many events like the Grand Prix and professional golf tournaments, doesn’t think there is enough societal awareness of composting yet to make it available to the public.  “For people not to be afraid of composting, it needs to be made as simple as possible.”

“I think a cultural event like the Jazz Fest has to make an effort to limit the waste production and at least recycle as much as possible, so that everyone becomes aware of the waste they create,” says Lavoie-Bouchard, “but also to encourage the idea of…sustainable development.”

And there’s nothing like good music and a green message to help a cold beer go down.