From electric vehicle batteries that are recycled into energy storage systems to furniture made from chopsticks and food containers that can be reused hundreds of times, a new generation of business leaders in Vancouver are coming up with viable ideas to reduce waste and slow the pace of climate change.
Many regions in BC, including Metro Vancouver, are aiming to move towards what is known as the circular economy, where resources are never thrown away but are reused, recycled and reintroduced as new products.
The province has set ambitious goals to reduce waste in BC to 350 kilograms per person. In 2020, British Columbia residents disposed of an average of 499 kilograms of municipal solid waste per person.
Regional officials working on the issue say the Lower Mainland has become a key hub for circular economy innovation.
CBC News recently interviewed the people behind three companies featured at Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Conference whose companies are trying to solve a waste problem.
Sumreen Rattan, Moment Energy
Sumreen Rattan, 26, and her company, Moment Energy, are as passionate about the electric vehicle (EV) industry as many are, but not in the way you might expect.
She and her three co-founders are all graduates of the Simon Fraser University engineering program, where they were involved in EV projects. It helped Rattan think about tackling an issue with the batteries that power electric vehicles.
“They ended up in landfills, produced toxic waste, or were prematurely recycled,” she said.
Rattan, who lives in Surrey, says Moment Energy came about as a way to recycle those batteries and turn them into energy storage systems that can be used to power off-grid homes and to supplement manufacturers who use the electricity they produce draw from the electricity, want to balance hydro-grid.
“Seeing EVs on the rise…I really wanted to make a positive difference in the environmental industry and on climate change.”
The company started humbly in January 2020 through seed money from SFU and friends and family, which also enabled the use of the garage in a family home for battery overhaul work.
The company now employs 30 people and will open a new manufacturing facility in Coquitlam.
They hope to be able to produce 10 megawatt hours of energy with their storage systems by next year, which would be enough electricity for 500 off-grid households.
The company has attracted venture capital investment and signed agreements with Nissan and Mercedes-Benz to get EV batteries, though they’re still working toward federal certification to use the power systems in commercial settings.
Felix Böck, Chop Value
Felix Böck, a German-born engineer living in Vancouver, had his revelation for a zero-waste business five years ago while eating sushi: reclaiming disposable chopsticks and turning it into home decor and furniture.
In 2017, he spent $200 of his own money to set up 15 cardboard bins at sushi restaurants to collect discarded chopsticks for ChopValue.
“When we did the math, we found that in Vancouver alone we throw out 100,000 chopsticks every day,” said Böck, 33.
He then built custom machines to press the chopsticks into blocks and has since made everything from drink coasters to office and conference tables.
After setting up what he calls a micro-factory in Vancouver, he’s rolled out the concept at 15 other locations in seven countries, where chopsticks, which are mostly made of bamboo, don’t go to landfill, reducing the carbon they store , is held back.
“We have a responsibility to get better with our resources that we have right in front of us and I thought if I could build a viable business, [with] something small and humble like a chopstick, then I think we’re on the right track,” he said.
He said the company’s biggest challenge now is attracting customers who are excited about the zero-waste concept but are not yet ready to stop buying cheaply made products imported from other markets.
Jason Hawkins and Anastasia Kiku, Reusable
In early 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic was causing people to prefer to order rather than eat out, Jason Hawkins, 27, and Anastasia Kiku, 24, founded a company that struggled to improve how reusable Food containers could replace disposable containers.
The concept isn’t new considering single-use containers end up in landfills in cities like Vancouver every day, but Hawkins and Kiku hoped to improve the consumer experience of reusable containers by becoming members of their company, Reusables, rather than everyone Use to pay a deposit on a container.
“It’s like a library system,” Hawkins said.
“The containers will be assigned to you. There is no deposit and it is very easy for both the store and the customer. You can return it within 14 days.”
Hawkins and Kiku began offering their containers in five East Vancouver stores, hoping to have 100 members in two months.
In two weeks, 200 people signed up and are now working with 80 businesses, including restaurants, cafes and grocery stores across the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
They offer 10 different stainless steel containers with silicone lids for customers to receive their food.
The duo hope the momentum will continue for the company, but also change consumer behavior and encourage them to choose something other than single-use containers.
Kiku said her motivation to develop Resuables and help solve the single-use container problem is the threat of climate change and apathy.
“As a young generation person, we just don’t have time to sit and do nothing,” she said.
“I think growing up I didn’t see enough action. I’ve talked a lot, heard a lot of vision statements…but not enough action, so I just felt [it was] to do the right thing, to do something, and if it works, it works.”