From electric vehicle batteries recycled into power 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 help reduce waste and slow the pace of climate change.
Many regions in B.C., including Metro Vancouver, have goals to transition to what’s known as the circular economy, where resources are never thrown out but are reused, recycled and re-introduced as new products.
The province has set ambitious goals to reduce the amount of waste produced in B.C. to 350 kilograms per person. In 2020, British Columbians disposed of an average of 499 kilograms of municipal solid waste per person.
Regional officials working on the problem say the Lower Mainland has become an important hub for innovation in the circular economy.
CBC News recently interviewed the people behind three companies featured at Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Conference whose businesses try to solve a waste problem.
Sumreen Rattan, Moment Energy
Sumreen Rattan, 26, and her company Moment Energy are just as excited about the electric vehicle (EV) industry as many others, but not in the way you probably expect.
She and her three co-founders are all graduates of Simon Fraser University’s engineering program where they were involved in EV projects. It helped Rattan start thinking about addressing a problem with the batteries that run EVs.
“They were ending up in landfills, producing toxic waste or being 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 want to offset the power they take from the hydro grid.
“Seeing that electric vehicles are starting to take off … I really wanted to make a positive change in the environmental industry and climate change.”
The company began modestly in January 2020 through start-up money from SFU and friends and family, who also allowed the use of the garage in a family home for work refurbishing batteries.
Now the company employs 30 people and is set to open a new manufacturing facility in Coquitlam.
They hope to be able to produce 10 megawatt hours of energy with its storage systems by next year, which would be enough power for 500 off-the-grid homes.
The company has attracted venture capital investment and signed agreements with Nissan and Mercedes-Benz to obtain EV batteries, although they’re still working toward federal certification to use the power systems in commercial settings.
Felix Böck, ChopValue
Felix Böck, a German-born engineer who lives in Vancouver, had his epiphany for a zero-waste company while out for sushi five years ago: reclaim single-use chopsticks and turn them into home decor and furniture.
In 2017, he spent $200 of his own money to put 15 cardboard bins in sushi restaurants to collect discarded chopsticks for ChopValue.
“When we did the math we figured that we were throwing out 100,000 chopsticks every single day in Vancouver alone,” said Böck, 33.
He then built custom machinery to press the chopsticks into blocks, and has since fabricated everything from drink coasters to office desks and conference tables.
After setting up what he calls a micro-factory in Vancouver, he’s put the concept in 15 other locations across seven countries where chopsticks, mostly made of bamboo, are kept from landfills, thus retaining the carbon they store.
“We have a responsibility to be better with our resources that we have right in front of us and I thought if I could create a viable business, [with] something small and humble like a chopstick then I think we are on a good path forward,” he said.
He said the company’s biggest challenge now is attracting customers who are excited by the zero waste concept, but who are not yet ready to stop buying cheaply-made products imported from other markets.
Jason Hawkins and Anastasia Kiku, Reusables
In early 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic had people choosing ordering in over dining out, Jason Hawkins, 27, and Anastasia Kiku, 24, launched a company that sought to improve how reusable food containers could replace single-use ones.
The concept is not new, considering the scourge of single-use containers ending up in landfills in cities like Vancouver every day, but Hawkins and Kiku hoped to improve the reusable container experience for consumers by having them become members of their company Reusables.com, rather than pay a deposit on a container for each use.
“It’s kind of like a library system,” said Hawkins.
“The containers get assigned to you. There’s no deposit and it’s really easy for both the store and the customer. You can return it within 14 days.”
Hawkins and Kiku started offering their containers through five stores in East Vancouver and hoped to sign up 100 members in two months.
They had 200 people sign up in two weeks, and now partner with 80 businesses, including restaurants, cafes and grocery stores across the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.
They offer 10 different stainless-steel containers with silicone lids in which customers can get their food items.
The duo hope the momentum will continue for the company, but also create behavioural change in consumers, getting them to choose something other than single-use containers.
Kiku said her motivation to create Resuables and help solve the issue of disposable containers was the threat of climate change and apathy.
“As a person of a young generation we just don’t have any more time to sit and not do something,” she said.
“I think growing up I didn’t see enough action being taken. I’ve heard a lot of talking, a lot of vision statements … but not enough action so I just felt [it was] the right thing to do, to be doing something and if it works, it works.”