In natural systems, waste does not exist. All waste materials are recycled – in effect natural systems are "zero waste" systems. Is this possible in a world of manufactured products and global trade? We hope so. Zero waste is our ultimate goal.
We're doing well in our efforts: in 2007, we recycled, composted, or donated 92% of the waste we generated. Only 8% ended up in landfills, but, that 8% represents 70 tonnes of waste. Finding new uses for waste involves creativity, whether it's our Edmonton store staff turning packaging into notebooks, or our Vancouver and Montreal staff finding ways to recycle old climbing ropes.
Avoiding waste also makes good financial sense. Diversion resulted in a $216,000 savings. Our average cost to landfill was $325 per tonne, whereas the average recycling cost was $68.
Getting to zero will be a long haul, but the best adventures always are.
We undertake a waste audit every year to estimate the amount of waste compared to the amount of recycling each of our facilities produce. First, we gather information from our waste haulers and recycling providers to estimate volumes going to landfill and recycling. Second, we conduct "dumpster dives" to audit just what goes in the garbage and what goes in our store recycling blue bins. The dumpster dives have been illuminating.
In Toronto, we discovered that a tenant in our building accounted for 40% of our dumpster volume, and of that, the majority was coffee grounds. That eureka moment resulted in a composting collaboration that has been in place for several years.
In Edmonton, we discovered our cleaning staff was placing source-separated bags of paper in the wrong bin and we were able to revisit a training program with them to correct the problem.
Vancouver began a program to recycle paper towels because – you guessed it – we found a whole lot of the stuff in the dumpster.
Calgary implemented a program to re-use boat packing materials that would normally be recycled. That resulted in 1,088kg of packing materials being re-used in 2006.
The majority of our waste stream consists of transport packaging that ensures our products arrive undamaged and in shape for the members. Our buyers know which materials our stores can recycle, and specify to suppliers what types of materials to use. They also work with suppliers to ensure the packaging protects the products, but isn't excessive.
MEC's Online Gear Swap is the ultimate gear recycling program. It complements our annual in-store gear swap and buy & sell boards. With an average of 30,000 visits a month, we're confident we're keeping old gear out of the landfill and putting it back into the hands of members.